Volume 43, No. 2

Search by author or title:

Assessing the breeding distribution and population trends of the Aleutian Tern Onychoprion aleutica


1Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, 95 Sterling Hwy, Ste. 1, Homer, AK 99603, USA (
2Tern Again Consulting, 388 E. Bayview Ave, Homer, AK 99603, USA
3University of Alaska Southeast, 11120 Glacier Hwy., Juneau, AK 99801, USA
4US Forest Service, PO Box 21629, Juneau AK 99802, USA
5Kamchatka Branch of Pacific Geographical Institute of Far Eastern Branch RAS, Rybakov Prospekt 19a, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, 683024, Russian Federation


RENNER, H.M., ROMANO, M.D., RENNER, M., PYARE, S., GOLDSTEIN, M.I. & ARTHUKIN, Y. 2015. Assessing the breeding distribution and population trends of the Aleutian Tern Onychoprion aleutica. Marine Ornithology 43: 179 - 187

Received 26 February 2015, accepted 19 May 2015

Date Published: 2015/10/15
Date Online: 2017/02/28
Key words: Alaska, Aleutian Tern, colony counts, population change, Russia, world population


We compiled survey data on 202 Aleutian Tern colonies throughout Alaska and Russia to assess the current status and colony sizes and to evaluate whether there had been changes in recent decades. We fit a Poisson generalized linear mixed model to all available counts of Alaskan colonies since 1960, excluding colonies in which the temporal spread of counts was < 6 years. Russian data were not included in the trend model due to our inability to resolve dates on a number of counts. We estimate that numbers at known colonies in Alaska have declined 8.1% annually since 1960 or 92.9% over three generations (33 years; 95% CI = 83.3%–97%), with large colonies experiencing greater declines than small colonies. Trends at known colonies within discrete geographic regions of Alaska (Aleutian Islands, Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Gulf of Alaska and Kodiak Island) were consistently negative. The most recent counts of all known Alaskan colonies summed to 5 529 birds. This estimate should be considered a rough minimum because it does not account for colonies that have not been surveyed in recent years — the size of which may have changed — or for the fact that the surveys conducted were neither systematic nor inclusive of all potential habitats. In Russia, the sum of the most recent count of all colonies was 25 602 individuals, indicating that Russia may host approximately 80% of the world population. Numbers in some regions in Russia appear to have increased substantially in recent decades, especially on Sakhalin Island and the southern coast of the Koryak Highland. We have no data to identify any population-level stressor that could explain the apparent reduction in numbers in Alaska. However, predation, egging and other anthropogenic disturbances, and degraded habitat may cause population change at local levels. If this overall pattern cannot be explained by other possible but unlikely factors (e.g. establishment of large colonies in new locations within Alaska, or major shifts between Alaska and Russia), then the observed trends in Alaska are, indeed, alarming. Therefore, we urge close monitoring of known colonies within Alaska, studies of dispersal, establishment of management practices to insulate colonies from human disturbance, and more concerted efforts among Alaskan and Russian partners. 


ALASKA NATURAL HERITAGE PROGRAM. AKNHP Biotics [data portal]. Anchorage, AK: University of Alaska Anchorage. [Available online from:; accessed 16 September 2015]

Babenko, V.G. 1996. Breeding of the Aleutian Tern – Sterna camtschatica Pallas in the Schastya Bay (the Sea of Okhotsk). Birds of the wetlands of the Southern Russian Far East and their protection. Vladivostok, Russia: Dalnauka. pp. 198–204.

Baird, P.A. 1986. Arctic and Aleutian Terns. In: Baird, P.A. & Gould, P.J. (Eds.) The breeding biology and feeding ecology of marine birds in the Gulf of Alaska. Outer Continental Shelf Environmental Assessment Program, Final Report. Principal Investigation, Vol. 45. Anchorage, AK: US Department of Commerce and US Department of the Interior (Minerals Management Service). pp. 349–380.

BIRDLIFE INTERNATIONAL. 2014. Sooty Tern Onychoprion fuscatus; Arctic tern Sterna paradisaea. [Available online at:;; accessed 1 November 2014] 

BRABY, J., BRABY, S., BRABY, R. & ALTWEGG, R. 2012. Annual survival and breeding dispersal of a seabird adapted to a stable environment: implications for conservation. Journal of Ornithology 153: 809–816.

Brindley, E., Mudge, G., Dymond, N., ET AL. 1999. The status of Arctic Terns Sterna paradisaea at Shetland and Orkney in 1994. Atlantic Seabirds 1: 135–143.

Buckley, F.G. and Buckley, P.A. 1979. Do Aleutian Terns exhibit extraordinary anti-predator adaptations? Proceedings of the Colonial Waterbird Group 3: 99–107.

Carey, G.J., Chalmers, M.L., Diskin, D.A., ET AL. 2001. The Avifauna of Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Bird Watching Society. 

Corcoran, R. 2012. Aleutian Tern counts from seabird colony and nearshore marine bird surveys in the Kodiak Archipelago, Alaska 1975–2012. Kodiak, AK: US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Crawford, R.J.M. 2003. Influence of food on numbers of breeding, colony size and fidelity to localities of Swift Terns in South Africa's Western Cape, 1987–2000. Waterbirds 26: 44–53. 

Cuthbert, F.J. & Wires, L.R. 1999. Caspian Tern (Sterna caspian). In: Poole, A. & Gill, F. (Eds.). The birds of North America, No. 403. Philadelphia and Washington, DC: Academy of Natural Sciences and American Ornithologists' Union.

Devlin, C.M., Diamond, A.W., Kress, S.W., Hall, C.S. & Welch, L. 2008. Breeding dispersal and survival of Arctic Terns (Sterna paradisaea) nesting in the Gulf of Maine. Auk 125: 850–858.

eBird. Ithaca, NY: Audobon and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. [Available online at:; accessed 16 September 2015]

Feare, C.J. & Lesperance, C. 2002. Intra- and inter-colony movements of breeding adult Sooty Terns in Seychelles. Waterbirds 25: 52–55. 

Friedmann, H. 1935. The birds of Kodiak Island, Alaska. Bulletin of the Chicago Academy of Science. 5: 13–54. 

Gabrielson, I. N. & Lincoln, F.C. 1959. The birds of Alaska. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books.

Gill, R.E. 2008. Caspian Terns nesting in Alaska: Prophecy, serendipity, and implications for regional climate-related change. Western Birds 39: 97–100.

Gotthardt, T., Pyare, S., Huettmann, F., ET AL. 2012. Predicting the range and distribution of terrestrial vertebrate species in Alaska. The Alaska Gap Analysis Project. Anchorage, AK: University of Alaska.

GULF OF MAINE SEABIRD WORKING GROUP. 2014. Minutes from the 2014 meeting. [Available online from:; accessed 4 June 2014

Hadfield, J.D. 2010. MCMC methods for multi-response generalized linear mixed models: The MCMCglmm R package. Journal of Statistical Software 33:1–22.

Haney, J.C., Andrew, J.M. & Lee, D.S. 1991. A closer look: Aleutian Tern. Birding 23: 346–351.

Hearne, M.E. & Cooper, J.M. 1987. Aleutian Tern, Sterna aleutica, a new bird for Canada. Canadian Field-Naturalist 101: 589–590.

Hill, N.P. & Bishop, K.D. 1999. Possible winter quarters of the Aleutian Tern? Wilson Bulletin 111: 559–560. 

Holtan, L.H. 1980. Nesting habitat and ecology of Aleutian Terns on the Copper River Delta, Alaska. Final report. Portland, OR: US Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station.

IUCN (INTERNATIONAL UNION FOR THE CONSERVATION OF NATURE). 2013. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1. [Available online from:; accessed 29 July 2013].

IUCN (INTERNATIONAL UNION FOR THE CONSERVATION OF NATURE). 2014. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. [Available online from:; accessed 1 December 2014]

Kaverkina, N.P. 1986a. Pairing behavior of terns. Bulletin of the Moscow Society of Naturalists, Biology Department 91: 40–47.

Kaverkina, N.P. 1986b. The breeding biology of the Kamchatka Tern – Sterna camtschatica Pallas. Seabirds of the Far East. Vladivostok, Russia: Far East Scientific Center, USSR Academy of Sciences. pp. 101–107.

Kondratyev, A.Y., Litvinenko, N.M., Shibaev, Y.V., Vyatkin, P.S. & Kondratyeva, L.F. 2000. The breeding seabirds of the Russian Far East. Seabirds of the Russian Far East., Canadian Wildlife Service Special Publication Ottawa: Canadian Wildlife Service. pp. 37–81. 

Lee, D.S. 1992. Specimen records of Aleutian Terns from the Philippines. Condor 94: 276–279.

Lobkov, E.G. 1998. Status and distribution of the Aleutian Tern in Kamchatka. The problems of conservation of poorly studied fauna of the North: Materials for the Red Data Book. Part 1. Moscow, Russia: TSNIL Okhotdepartamenta RF. pp. 146–160.

Lobkov, E.G. 2001. Aleutian (Kamchatka) Tern. Red Data Book of the Russian Federation (Animals). Moscow, Russia: AST, Astrel. pp. 532–533.

Lobkov, E.G. 2006. Aleutian (Kamchatka) Tern. Red Data Book of Kamchatka. Vol. 1. Animals. Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia: Kamchatsky Pechatny Dvor. pp. 185–187.

McCulloch, C.E. & Searle, S.R. 2001. Generalized, Linear and Mixed Models. Wiley Series in Probability and Statistics. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Nechaev, V.A. 1989. Kamchatka Tern – Sterna camtschatica Pallas, 1811. Rare vertebrates of the Soviet Far East and their protection. Leningrad, Russia: Nauka. pp. 139–141.

Nechaev, V.A. & Lobkov, E.G. 1988. Kamchatka Tern – Sterna camtschatica Pallas, 1811. Birds of the USSR. Larids. Moscow, Russia: Nauka, pp. 348–356.

North, M.R. 2013. Aleutian Tern (Onychoprion aleuticus). In: Poole, A. (Ed.). The birds of North America online. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology [Available online from:; accessed 16 September 2015]

Nysewander, D.R. & Barbour, D.B. 1979. The breeding biology of marine birds associated with Chiniak Bay, Kodiak Island, 1975–1978. In: Environmental Assessment of the Alaskan Continental Shelf. Annual Report Principal Investigation, Vol. 2. Anchorage, Alaska : US Fish and Wildlife Service, Biological Services Program. pp. 21–106.

Oehlers, S. 2007. Yakutat Access and Travel Management Plan. Aleutian and Arctic Tern analysis: supplement to ATM wildlife specialist report. Yakutat, AK: US Forest Service.

OEHLERS, S. 2012. Observations of Aleutian Terns on the Yakutat Forelands, 2008–2012. Yakutat, AK: US Forest Service. 

Poole, C., Brickle, N. & Bakewell, D. 2011. South-East Asia's Final Frontier? BirdingASIA 16: 26–31.

Pyare, S., Goldstein, M.I., Duffy, D., Oehlers, S., Catterson, N. & Frederick, J. 2013. Aleutian Tern (Onychoprion aleuticus) research in Alaska: survey methodology, migration, and statewide coordination. Final Report to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Juneau, AK: Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

R Core Team. 2014. R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria. [Available online from:; accessed 16 September 2015].

Roby, D.R., Collis, K., Lyons, D.E., Craig, D.E., Adkins, J.Y., Lyers, A.M. & Suryan, R.M. 2002. Effects of colony relocation on diet and productivity of Caspian Terns. Journal of Wildlife Management 66: 662–673. 

Sowls, A.L., Hatch, S.A. & Lensink, C.J. 1978. Catalog of Alaskan seabird colonies. FWS/OBS-78/78. US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Spendelow, J.A., Mostello, C.S., Nisbet, I.C.T., Hall, C.S. & Welch, L. 2010. Interregional breeding dispersal of adult Roseate Terns. Waterbirds 33: 242–245.

Spendelow, J.A., Nichols, J.D., Nisbet, I.C.T., ET AL. 1995. Estimating annual survival and movement rates of adults within a metapopulation of Roseate Terns. Ecology 76: 2415–2428.

Szostek, K.L., Schaub, M. & Becker, P.H. 2014. Immigrants are attracted by local pre-breeders and recruits in a seabird colony. Journal of Animal Ecology 83: 1015–1024. 

Tims, J., Nisbet, I.C.T., Friar, M.S., Mostello, C. & Hatch, J.J. 2004. Characteristics and performance of Common Terns in old and newly-established colonies. Waterbirds 27: 321–332.

Tiunov, I.M. & Blokhin, A.Y. 2014. The current state of populations of the Common Tern Sterna hirundo (Linnaeus, 1758) and the Kamchatka Tern S. camtschatica (Pallas, 1811) in Northern Sakhalin. Russian Journal of Marine Biology 40: 383–395.

USFWS (US FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE). 2013. North Pacific Seabird Colony Database. [Available online from:; accessed 5 August 2013]

Weber, W.M. 1956. Occurrence of the Aleutian Tern and Rustic Bunting in the Aleutian Islands. Condor 58: 235.

Search by author or title:

Browse previous volumes: