Monitoring Nesting Waterbirds for the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project: 2022 Breeding Season

Open-File Report 2023-1067
Ecosystems Mission Area—Species Management Research Program
Prepared in cooperation with California State Coastal Conservancy, California Wildlife Foundation, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project
By: , and 



The San Francisco Bay supports thousands of breeding waterbirds annually and hosts large populations of American avocets (Recurvirostra americana), black-necked stilts (Himantopus mexicanus), and Forster’s terns (Sterna forsteri). These three species have relied largely on former commercial salt ponds in South San Francisco Bay, which provide wetland foraging habitat and island nesting habitat. The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is in the process of restoring 50–90 percent of 15,100 acres of these former salt ponds to tidal marsh and tidal mudflats. Although this restoration is expected to have numerous benefits, including providing habitat for tidal wetland-dependent species, improving water quality, buffering against storm surge, and protecting inland areas from sea level rise, the reduction in former salt pond habitat and nesting islands may negatively affect breeding waterbirds. To address the reduction in former salt pond habitat available to waterbirds, the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project also includes enhancements to remaining pond habitat, such as the construction of new islands for nesting. Moreover, the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project follows an adaptive management plan in which waterbird response to the changing landscape is monitored over time to ensure that existing breeding waterbird populations are maintained. In this report, we provide results of waterbird nest monitoring in South San Francisco Bay during the 2022 breeding season and present these results in the context of annual nest monitoring in South San Francisco Bay since 2005. Overall, nest abundance in 2022 remained at or near 18-year lows for American avocets (176 nests) and black-necked stilts (97 nests), but Forster’s tern nest abundance (1,727 nests) was at an 18-year high, reversing historically low abundance observed during 2015–2017. In 2022, there were only 6 American avocet, 4 black-necked stilt, and 4 Forster’s tern major colony nesting sites, which is down from annual averages of 12.4, 6.6, and 6.6 observed during 2005–2009. Nest success (30 percent for American avocets, 29 percent for black-necked stilt, and 53 percent for Forster’s terns) was below the 2005–2007 baseline values established for the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. Average egg-hatching success (98 percent, 100 percent, and 90 percent), and clutch sizes (3.68, 3.70, and 2.63 eggs) of American avocets, black-necked stilts, and Forster’s terns, respectively, were similar to values observed during 2005–2010. All three species displayed notable shifts in nest initiation dates in 2022, with American avocets and Forster’s terns nesting 10–11 days earlier and black-necked stilts nesting 10 days later than during 2005–2010. Finally, the enhanced, managed ponds with newly constructed islands (Ponds A16 and SF2) supported 86 percent of all the Forster’s tern nests recorded in South San Francisco Bay in 2022, which is the first time these managed ponds have hosted such a substantial number of tern nests.

Suggested Citation

Ackerman, J.T., Hartman, C.A., and Herzog, M., 2023, Monitoring nesting waterbirds for the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project—2022 breeding season: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2023–1067, 25 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results and Discussion
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Monitoring nesting waterbirds for the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project—2022 breeding season
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2023-1067
DOI 10.3133/ofr20231067
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Center
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description vi, 25 p.
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial South Bay Salt Pond
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details