Breeding restricted primarily to Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Cape Lookout National Seashore (Fussell 1994). Nested on Pea Island until introduction of domestic cats in 1908 (Potter et al. 1980).|
Found on sandy beaches, primarily on sand flats near inlets (Fussell 1994); in other parts of the species∆ range, also nests on inland lakeshores with
little vegetation (Hayman et al. 1986).
Nests on upper stretches of the beach near dunes, usually where there is no vegetation, but sometimes where beach grass is sparse. Usually 200 feet or more away from another nesting pair (Harrison 1975) and often near a large rock or clump of grass, but with no shade provided (Kaufman 1996).
GLOBAL HABITAT COMMENTS:
Sandy beaches, especially where scattered grass tufts are present, and sparsely vegetated shores and islands of shallow lakes, ponds, rivers, and impoundments. In migration and winter also mudflats, flooded fields, dredge spoils. In winter, usually on ocean beaches or on sand or algal flats in protected bays (Haig 1992).
Most abundant in winter in sites generally consisting of expansive sandflats, or sandy mudflats, and sandy beach in close proximity; usually in areas with high habitat heterogeneity (see Nichols and Baldasarre  for further information on winter habitat associations in the southeastern U.S.). Among winter birds, 51% use ocean beaches, 43% use sand or
algal flats in protected bays, and 6% use areas where protected bays meet ocean beaches (Haig and Plissner 1993).
Along the Atlantic coast, breeds mainly on sandy coastal beaches. In the Great Lakes region, breeds on sand and gravel shorelines, and behind foredune among cobble and sparse vegetation on islands (Powell and Cuthbert 1992). In the
Great Plains, nests on sand, gravel, and alkaline shores or bars of rivers (Ziewitz et al. 1992) and lakes. Of Great Plains breeders, 60% use shorelines around small alkaline lakes, 18% use large reservoir beaches, 20% use river islands and adjacent sand pits, 2% use beaches on large lakes, and 0.4% use industrial pond shorelines (Haig and Plissner 1993).
Nests on ground on high part of sandy shore, also on other exposed shore or on dredge spoils, in areas with sparse vegetation. Nears in or adjacent to least tern colonies in a number of sites in the Great Plains and along the Atlantic coast. In Nova Scotia, may nest within colonies of arctic and common terns. In Minnesota, has nested in common tern colonies.
Commonly nests in association with American avocets in North Dakota.
Often returns to the same nesting area in consecutive years (but few return to natal sites). Sometimes shifts breeding location by up to several hundred kilometers between consecutive years. Previous reproductive success apparently does not increase the probability of returning to
specific breeding sites (see USFWS 1994). In Manitoba, adults that experienced nest failure the previous year usually changed general nesting location (Haig and Oring 1988). In North Dakota, nesting success was greatest on territories with little vegetative cover and territories with highly clumped vegetation (Gaines and Ryan 1988). On Assateague Island,
Maryland and Virginia, fledging success was higher for broods foraging at bay flats or tidal pools than for broods foraging on ocean beaches (Patterson et al. 1991). Finished nest cups, frequently lined with small pebbles or shell fragments, are shallow depressions approximately 2 cm deep and 6 cm in diameter (USFWS 1994).
See USFWS (1994) for
many further details on habitat requirements in north-central North America.
NATURE SERVE STATE HABITAT COMMENTS:
Nesting habitat includes sandy beaches, usually near inlets or on washover fans along the Atlantic Coast.
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