North America's northernmost, sizable colony of Caspian Terns (Hydroprogne caspia) is located on the Copper River Delta of south-central Alaska, USA. The colony was monitored in June during 2008-2016 and in July during 2009-2013. This 9-year period coincided with reduction of Caspian Tern nesting habitat at East Sand Island in the Columbia River estuary, Oregon, USA, one of the world's largest Caspian Tern breeding colonies. The number of active nests on the Copper River Delta more than doubled during the early study period from 209 in 2008 to 423 in 2013. However, there was a steady decline in the number of nests during 2014 (281) to 2015 (115) and the colony failed in 2016. These declines were likely due to warm sea surface temperature anomalies across the northeastern Pacific Ocean in those years. Based on resightings of banded individuals, colony connectivity was documented between the Copper River Delta and other colonies, ranging from southeast Alaska (215 km) to central California, USA (> 3,000 km). The East Sand Island colony was the most important source of immigrants to the Copper River Delta. While the Copper River Delta now serves as important natural breeding habitat for Caspian Terns, increased flooding and severe storms associated with climate change will likely limit colony size and productivity in the long-term.
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Vol. 42 • No. 1