Common Tern

Sterna hirundo

Order

CHARADRIIFORMES

Family

Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Code 4

COTE

Code 6

STEHIR

ITIS

ILLUSTRATION

ask community
Copyright © 2004 - 2017 Mitch Waite Group

PHOTOS

CONSERVATION STATUS

Least Concern

The Common Tern is a medium-sized seabird that is sometimes also called a sea swallow due to its diving abilities and affinity for water habitats. This species forms large colonies for breeding, and does so in temperate and sub-Arctic climates throughout Europe, Asia and eastern and central North America. In winter months, the Common Tern will migrate to subtropical and tropical ocean coastlines. Breeding takes place along the coasts and on islands of inland lakes. This species dives for fish in both salt and fresh water. The current conservation rating for the Common Tern is Least Concern.

IBIRD EXPLORER GENERAL

PHOTO SHARING AND DISCUSSION

BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY

SUMMARY

Overview

Common Tern: This medium-sized tern has medium gray upperparts, pale gray underparts and a glossy black cap and nape. The wings are dark-tipped with a dark leading edge on the forewing. The red bill is black-tipped, legs are red, and the tail is deeply forked and elongated. It has a direct flight, hovering above water before diving for prey. Feeds mainly on small marine fish. Sexes are similar.

 

Range and Habitat

Common Tern: Breeds in North America along the Atlantic coast from the northern Maritime Provinces of Canada to South Carolina, occasionally in the Gulf of Mexico or on large inland lakes, and west to Alberta. Spends winters from southernmost breeding areas on the Atlantic coast to northern Ecuador and Brazil. Preferred habitats include sand and shell beaches, grassy uplands, and rocky inland shores.

whatbird search for your browser

Common Tern SONGS AND CALLS

Common Tern W1

Alarm call is a shrill "kee-arr".

Common Tern JJ1

Advertising call is a rising or falling "keeur" given as birds approach a colony.

Similar Sounding


Voice Text

"Kee-urr" removed period

INTERESTING FACTS

  • Birds living along the coast drink salt water. They do not seek fresh water even when it is available nearby. Like many seabirds, they have nasal glands that excrete the excess salt.
  • Populations were severely depleted in late 19th century for millinery trade, but have recovered with protection.
  • The Common Tern is sometimes called the sea swallow.
  • A group of common terns are collectively known as a "committee" of terns.

SIMILAR BIRDS

RANGE MAP NORTH AMERICA

About this North America Map

This map shows how this species is distributed across North America.

RANGE MAP HAWAII

About this Hawaii Map

This map shows how this species is distributed across the Hawaiian island.

FAMILY DESCRIPTION

TERMINOLOGY

CREDITS

Author

Gary Owen Dick

Artist

Chris Vest

HELP ME IDENTIFY A BIRD

BACKYARD BIRDING

BIRDS AND BIRDING

.
UnderpartsX

Belly, undertail coverts, chest, flanks, and foreneck.

UpperpartsX
Back, rump, hindneck, wings, and crown.
CapX
The area on top of the head of the bird.
NapeX
Also called the hindneck or collar, it is the back of the neck where the head joins the body.
Lower mandibleX
The lower part of the bill.
Parts of a Standing bird X
Head Feathers and Markings X
Parts of a Flying bird X