Comparisons were made of the foraging ecology of Caspian Terns (Sterna caspia) nesting on two islands in the Columbia River estuary using radio telemetry and observations of prey fed to chicks and mates at each colony. Early in the chick-rearing period, radio-tagged terns nesting at Rice Island (river km 34) foraged mostly in the freshwater zone of the estuary close to the colony, while terns nesting on East Sand Island (river km 8) foraged in the marine or estuarine mixing zones close to that colony. Late in the chick-rearing period, Rice Island terns moved more of their foraging to the two zones lower in the estuary, while East Sand Island terns continued to forage in these areas. Tern diets at each colony corresponded to the primary foraging zone (freshwater vs. marine/ mixing) of radio-tagged individuals: Early in chick-rearing, Rice Island terns relied heavily on juvenile salmonids (Oncorhynchus spp., 71% of identified prey), but this declined late in chick-rearing (46%). East Sand Island terns relied less on salmonids (42% and 16%, early and late in chick-rearing), and instead utilized marine fishes such as Anchovy (Engraulis mordax) and Herring (Clupea pallasi). Throughout chick-rearing, Rice Island terns foraged farther from their colony (median distance: 12.3 km during early chick-rearing and 16.9 km during late chick-rearing) than did East Sand Island terns (9.6 and 7.7 km, respectively). The study leads to the conclusion that Caspian Terns are generalist foragers and make use of the most proximate available forage fish resources when raising young.
Additional publication details
Foraging ecology of Caspian Terns in the Columbia River Estuary, USA