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Open-File Report 2012–1059

Prepared in cooperation with the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program

Foraging Ecology of Least Terns and Piping Plovers Nesting on Central Platte River Sandpits and Sandbars

By Mark H. Sherfy, Michael J. Anteau, Terry L. Shaffer, Marsha A. Sovada, and Jennifer H. Stucker

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (6.56 MB)Abstract

Federally listed least terns (Sternula antillarum) and piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) nest on riverine sandbars on many major midcontinent river systems. On the Central Platte River, availability of sandbar habitat is limited, and both species nest on excavated sandpits in the river’s floodplain. However, the extent to which sandpit-nesting birds use riverine habitats for foraging is unknown. We evaluated use of foraging habitats by least terns and piping plovers by collecting data on movements, behavior, foraging habitat, and productivity. We radiomarked 16 piping plovers and 23 least terns in 2009–2010 and monitored their movements using a network of fixed telemetry dataloggers. Piping plovers were detected primarily by the datalogger located in their nesting sandpit, whereas least terns were more frequently detected on dataloggers outside of the nesting sandpit. Telemetry data and behavioral observations showed that least terns tended to concentrate at the Kearney Canal Diversion Gates, where forage fish were apparently readily available. Fish sampling data suggested that forage fish were more abundant in riverine than in sandpit habitats, and behavioral observations showed that least terns foraged more frequently in riverine than in sandpit habitats. Piping plovers tended to forage in wet substrates along sandpit shorelines, but also used dry substrates and sandpit interior habitats. The greater mobility of least terns makes a wider range of potential foraging habitats available during brood rearing, making them able to exploit concentrations of fish outside the nesting colony. Thus, our data suggest that different spatial scales should be considered in managing nesting and foraging habitat complexes for piping plovers and least terns.

First posted April 13, 2012

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Suggested citation:

Sherfy, M.H., Anteau, M.J., Shaffer, T.L., Sovada, M.A., and Stucker, J.H., 2012, Foraging ecology of least terns and piping plovers nesting on Central Platte River sandpits and sandbars: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012–1059, 50 p.






Study Areas




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References Cited

Figures 7–15

Tables 14–22

Appendixes 1–4

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