From 12 May 2013 to 29 May 2013, the Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) colony at the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, California, US, experienced a mass die-off of at least 92 adults, representing 71–92% of the breeding population on the US west coast. Cause of death was determined to be peritonitis due to perforations of the intestine by a large quantity of acanthocephala (Profilicollis [=Polymorphus] altmani). This is a unique report of P. altmani infecting G. nilotica, and a report of a great impact to a tern population in southern California. Mole crabs (Emerita analoga), the intermediate host for P. altmani and a major component of the Gull-billed Tern diet in San Diego, were found in the stomachs of necropsied terns along with cystacanths, and are the presumed source of the parasite infection. The tern's dietary reliance upon mole crabs likely amplified parasite transmission and infection. We suggest additional research to determine factors that influence parasite infection of intermediate and definitive hosts, particularly mole crabs, given that they are a vital resource for migrating birds within the coastal zone.
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Vol. 53 • No. 4