The Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) has until recently received little conservation and management attention within North America despite a relatively low overall population size and significant declines in parts of the breeding range. This lack of attention may stem in part from the wide distribution of the species, encompassing parts of six continents, and from its tendency to nest in relatively small, scattered and often ephemeral colonies. Populations of North American subspecies are alarmingly small. The current population of the eastern subspecies aranea in the U.S. is unlikely to exceed 3,600 pairs, with over 60% of these birds occurring in Texas. The Texas population has remained generally stable, but declines of populations in Maryland (where probably extirpated), Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and possibly Georgia give cause for concern for this subspecies. For the western subspecies vanrossemi, as few as 250 pairs nest at only two locations in the U.S., both in California. When populations in western Mexico are considered, the entire vanrossemi population numbers only 600-800 pairs. Currently the Gull-billed Tern is listed as ?endangered? or ?threatened? in four states, and is considered to be of management concern in five others. The breeding range of the species has contracted and shifted slightly from its known historic range in the middle Atlantic states, but otherwise occupies its historic range in the United States and has expanded slightly to coastal southern California. Some range contraction in Mexico (e.g., in Sonora) may have occurred. In eastern Mexico, historical information is almost non-existent and knowledge of current distribution and abundance is incomplete. Main threats to populations in North America include loss of natural nesting islands through beach erosion or perturbations to estuarine functions, development or modification of upland habitats near breeding areas that may be important for foraging, and disturbances to colonies by humans and feral or human-subsidized predators. This species often nests on man-made substrates suggesting it could be responsive to management of breeding sites. Key research needs include more frequent and refined population monitoring, a better understanding of demographics, metapopulation dynamics and factors limiting populations as well as refinement of subspecies? breeding distributions and wintering ranges.
Additional publication details
The distribution and conservation status of the Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) in North America