Sooty Tern

Onychoprion fuscatus




Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Code 4


Code 6



Egg Color:

White to buff with brown, lavender or black marks.

Number of Eggs:


Incubation Days:

27 - 30

Egg Incubator:

Both sexes

Nest Location:

No prepared nest, egg is laid directly on sheltered ground, often under shrubbery.

Nest Material:

No prepared nest. Leaves.





Sooty Tern: Medium-sized tern with long wings and deeply forked tail, black crown, nape and upperparts, and a broad triangular white forehead patch. Underparts are white; upper tail is black with white outer edges. Sexes are similar. Winter adult has paler crown and nape; variable white feather fringes above. Juveniles are blackish-brown above, finely covered with irregular lines; spotted with white and gray-brown below, becoming paler from the lower belly downwards; underwing coverts are white.

Range and Habitat

Sooty Tern: Largely pelagic, coming ashore only to breed. Has an established breeding colony on Dry Tortugas, Florida. Florida population spends most of its nonbreeding time off the west African coast. Also nests on islets off Louisiana and Texas. Regular (nonbreeding) in summer north to North Carolina.

Breeding and Nesting

Sooty Tern: Simple scrape nest on ground, built by both sexes, lined with leaves; single white to buff egg with brown, lavender, or black markings. Incubation ranges from 27 to 30 days and is carried out by both sexes; Chick fed by both parents, fledges at 56 to 63 days.

Foraging and Feeding

Sooty Tern: Their diet includes small pelagic fish and squid. These terns skim water and take fish and small aquatic animals on the wing. They feed offshore with predatory fish that drive bait fish to the surface. They feed extensively at night. They are pelagic foragers, generally feeding far out at sea in tropical and subtropical oceanic waters.


Sooty Tern: Emits a high, nasal bark or laughing "ka-wake", "ke weh-de-wek", or "wacky-wack."

Similar Species

Sooty Tern: Bridled Tern is smaller, has narrower wings, longer tail, white collar and white forehead patch extends behind the eye.


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

Back, rump, hindneck, wings, and crown.
The ventral part of the bird, or the area between the flanks on each side and the crissum and breast. Flight muscles are located between the belly and the breast.
The crown is the top part of the birds head.
Also called the hindneck or collar, it is the back of the neck where the head joins the body.
The pelagic is a type of bird whose habitat is on the open ocean rather than in a coastal region or on inland bodies of water (lakes, rivers). An example of a pelagic bird is the blacklegged kittiwake.
Parts of a Standing bird X
Head Feathers and Markings X
Parts of a Flying bird X