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While most migratory shorebirds journey to other countries to breed, Little Terns choose to nest on our shores. In a handful of shore and estuary habitats throughout the Sydney Basin and the South East Coast, these small marine birds can be found nesting on the ground in shallow, sandy scrapes decorated with bits of seaweed, sticks, shells, and small pebbles.

Little Tern nests can be hard to spot. Many of their eggs are accidentally stepped on by walkers or crushed by vehicles on beaches. For predators with good eyesight and smell, though, the nests are easy to find. Many Little Tern eggs and chicks are taken by dogs, foxes, and cats.

This is bad news for the Little Terns – who are also an endangered species.

How can such a small, ground-nesting bird protect their nest? Well, Little Terns stick together! Nesting in groups means more eyes to keep watch for danger. It also means more participants to create a noisy display of screeching and flapping that can help drive predators away from the nests. For Little Terns, it’s all about safety in numbers.

A pair of Little Terns

Little Terns teach us the importance of supporting each other and caring for Country.

Image: Duade Paton
© Duade Paton

Little Terns need our help to have safe places where they can hatch their eggs and raise their chicks. When someone needs help, it is important that we stand by them. Likewise, when someone needs space, materials or time to do things, it is important that we share with them.

Little Terns teach us that supporting and sharing with others includes not just our friends and families, but all people, animals, plants, and ecosystems too. First Nations people call this ‘caring for Country’. It is everyone’s responsibility to care for Country, because if everyone cares for Country then we are all caring for each other.

Caring for Country means that sharing the shore with the animals who live there is just as important as sharing with our sisters and brothers. It also means that sticking up for endangered animals like the Little Terns is just as important as sticking up for a friend who is sad or being bullied.

Little Terns

Little Terns need our help to have safe places where they can hatch their eggs and raise their chicks.

Image: Duade Paton
© Duade Paton

So what can we do to stick up for the endangered Little Terns?

Here’s some easy things you can do:

  • Next time you are at a beach or estuary, look for information signs about ground-nesting shorebirds – they will show you where the birds are nesting so that you can plan ways to walk around them.
  • Watch where you are stepping, especially in sandy areas with lots of plants where a hidden nest might be easy to miss.
  • If you find a nest, leave it alone! Ask an adult to contact Environment Line to report the nest so that it can be safe. You can contact them by phoning 1300361967 or emailing info@environment.nsw.gov.au.
  • Keep your dog on a leash at beaches where shorebirds are nesting, or visit a dog friendly beach instead.
  • When driving on beaches, stay below the high tide mark – nests are usually above this line.

Editorial note: Some animal names have been capitalised to give agency to Country by First Nations writers. Find out more about why we capitalise English language in reading Who is Country.

About the author

Sara Kianga Judge is a neurodiverse Walbunja-Yuin woman who grew up on Burramattagal Country. She is an environmental scientist, geographer and artist passionate about accessible science communication and helping people to grow meaningful relationships with Country.