That’s a Caspian Tern, photographed in May by James Tilley. Even if you can’t recall seeing one (or more), their distinctive prehistoric-esque call has been unmistakable in flyovers (you can hear it here). In past years they’ve frequently flown over West Seattle on their way to and from a nesting spot on a rooftop near the eastern shore of the Duwamish River – one where last year’s record heat wave killed more than 100 of their chicks. This year, community naturalist Kersti Muul says, they didn’t return to nest at that spot. But they didn’t go far, she learned after research – they’re on a roof at the south end of the downtown waterfront, near the Coast Guard station. (They’re easy to hear, we learned while driving northbound on East Marginal Way toward downtown late last night.) She says more than 1,000 terns are there, but so far they don’t seem to be nesting, which means they’re two months behind schedule – usually by now, nesting season is far enough along that some of the babies are starting to take short flights.
P.S. We asked Kersti what if anything community members can do to help the terns, Here’s her reply:
This is a link for SCAN (Seattle Conservation Action Network). Seattle Audubon will notify you when opportunities arise to advocate for a Seattle-area cities where people and birds thrive. It’s a good tool to streamline advocacy on big items; people don’t have to search around.
Also, the terns were impacted by an extreme weather event last year related to climate change. We are losing canopy cover [trees] at an alarming rate throughout Seattle and King County, both illegally and legally. I urge people to be thoughtful and climate-focused when considering tree work and removals. While we are working hard to get better tree protection laws, we can simply choose to protect ourselves, our climate, our neighbors; human and non-human, by advocating for tree retention. Urban heat islands are increasing, and urban habitat is severely fragmented, and lacking. Trees are vital to the success of all species.