At the Airport
Laverne: the Runway Stowaway
What is the newest Airport Explorers’ book about?
Crafted by airport employees Judy McSweeney (author) and Sharon Gonzales (illustrator),
“Laverne, the Runway Stowaway” educates and entertains young audiences by sharing
the whimsical adventures of an endangered least tern who nests at the airport.
Through the eyes of imaginary airport characters Propeller Pete, SkyKid Sam, Jet
the dog and Flygirl Pearl, “Laverne” tells the story of a curious California least
tern chick who gets lost and with the help of her new friends tries to find her
way home on the airport’s runway. “Laverne” was chosen as the small seabird’s name
because it means “born in the spring,” which corresponds with the April start of
the least tern nesting season.
Who is the book’s author?
In addition to her writing talents, Judy McSweeney manages the Airport Explorers
program, which encompasses events, tours, books, school visits, educational items,
Web site resources and more. She relied on the airport environmental department’s
vast research including blogs, photography, videos and personal interviews for written
Who is the book’s illustrator?
Sharon Gonzales is a graphic designer and illustrator for San Diego International
Airport. She chose colored pencil to depict “Laverne” and her friends as that medium
renders itself well to book illustration. To create accurate facial expressions
for the book’s characters, Sharon found real-life children and a pedigree beagle
to act as models. She was inspired to draw Jet the dog as a beagle because this
type of animal is generally inquisitive and active with expressive eyes. She also
studied the airport’s least terns and their habitat to create a curious little bird
with animated black eyes.
How can I get a copy of the book?
San Diego International Airport will donate copies of the new book to hundreds of
libraries across San Diego County. Call your local library to inquire
about availability. “Laverne, the Runway Stowaway” is also available for purchase
Why does the California least tern nest at San Diego International Airport?
Listed under the Federal and California State Endangered Species Act since 1972,
the least tern is a migratory species that has found a suitable home at San Diego
International Airport. The least tern prefers to nest in small, scattered clusters
right on sandy beaches and salt flats along the western coast of North America,
from San Francisco Bay to Baja California, Mexico. Typical nesting sites are natural
or artificial open areas near estuaries, bays, or harbors where small fish are abundant.
At the airport, least terns have nested on the sand and gravel in the five oval
areas between the runway and the airplane taxiways since 1970.
What is the California Least Tern Protection Program at the airport?
The San Diego Regional Airport Authority has created a California Least Tern Protection
Program with guidelines for all airport, tenant and contractor activities during
the nesting season (April through September). The guidelines include the following
- Prohibiting any activities within the least tern ovals themselves
- Reducing vehicle speed near the least tern ovals to 15 mph
- Minimizing potential construction project impacts by focusing lights away from the
least tern ovals during night-time activities and lowering any equipment having
a height of 25 feet or greater at the close of each construction day
- Properly disposing of trash and keeping outdoor trash dumpsters covered so as not
to attract any least tern predators
What efforts are being undertaken to protect the California least terns’ habitat?
The greatest impact on the least tern population is caused by habitat loss due to
a continuing increase in urbanization. As a result of ongoing habitat preservation
efforts, the San Diego International Airport least tern nesting site is one of the
most productive in Southern California. The site is located at the southeastern
end of the airport’s runway (Runway Oval 0-3-S) and close to the bird’s food source
in San Diego Bay. This year, 139 least tern nests were established at San Diego
International Airport. The Airport Authority works in cooperation with the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, the Zoological Society of San Diego and the Port of San
Diego to protect the endangered least terns as well as other threatened birds, plants
and related habitats. For more information,