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We investigated the breeding ecology and diet of Caspian terns on the Columbia Plateau in southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon. We examined trends in colony size and area during 1996-2001, and estimated number of breeding pairs, nesting density, fledging success, and diet composition at selected colony sites in 2000 and 2001. We found six tern colonies totaling ???1,000 breeding pairs, ranging in size from < 50 to nearly 700 pairs. Predation by mink caused complete abandonment of one of these colonies in 2000 and 2001. The relocation of ???9,000 Caspian tern breeding pairs from Rice Island to East Sand Island in the Columbia River estuary did not result in an obvious increase in the number of tern breeding pairs on the Columbia Plateau during the study period. The majority of Caspian tern prey items at colonies on the mid-Columbia River consisted of juvenile salmonids. At a colony in Potholes Reservoir, Washington, Caspian terns commuted over 100 km round-trip to the Columbia River to forage on juvenile salmonids, suggesting that locally abundant food may be limiting. High nesting densities at other mid-Columbia River colonies suggest that availability of breeding habitat may limit colony size. The small size of Caspian tern colonies on the Columbia Plateau, and possible constraints on availability of suitable nesting habitat within the study area, suggest that the level of predation on ESA-listed juvenile salmonids in this region will likely remain well below that currently observed in the Columbia River estuary.
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Breeding ecology of Caspian terns at colonies on the Columbia Plateau