Black Tern

Chlidonias niger




Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Code 4


Code 6



Egg Color:

Buff to olive with black, brown and green blotches.

Number of Eggs:

2 - 4

Incubation Days:

17 - 22

Egg Incubator:

Both sexes

Nest Location:

Floating and anchored to vegetation.

Nest Material:

Dead plants.





Black Tern: Small tern with black head and underparts. Back, wings and tail are silver-gray. Vent is white; legs are dark red but may appear black; dark bill and eyes. Sexes are similar, but have subtle differences in overall size and intensity of coloration. Seasonal variation in plumage; winter adult is pale gray above and white below with black patch on side of breast covering ears and nape on a white head. Juvenile is similar to winter adult but has a scaled appearance and a pale brown wash on the forehead.

Range and Habitat

Black Tern: Found from central eastern Alaska, central Manitoba and Ontario south to northern California, Colorado, northern Missouri and Tennessee, also to the lakeshores of northern Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Winters spent from Surinam to Peru and Chile. Preferred habitats include lakes, ponds, marshes, and coastal areas.

Breeding and Nesting

Black Tern: Their courtship ritual is elaborate with much flying. Males often fly with fish in their mouth to attract females. They nest in small colonies in upland marshes and sloughs. Two to four buff to olive eggs with black, brown and green blotches are laid in a floating nest made of dead plants. Incubation ranges from 17 to 22 days and is carried out by both parents.

Foraging and Feeding

Black Tern: These terns feed on insects, crayfish, small mollusks and fish. They forage by seizing prey at or near the water surface, darting quickly into the water from the air with the bill pointed down. They also catch insects in the air, especially during swarms. Adults drink during bathing or swoop to water to dip their bill several times, particularly after swallowing prey.


Black Tern: Call is a high pitched, shrill, metallic sound given frequently, especially when intruders are near nest.

Similar Species

Black Tern: White-winged Tern, accidental in U.S., has white upperwings, white rump and tail, and black axillaries in breeding plumage.


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

The upper front part of a bird.
Also called the hindneck or collar, it is the back of the neck where the head joins the body.
Birds do not have two separate cavities for excrement and reproduction like humans do. In birds, there is one single entrance/exit that suits both functions called the vent, cloaca or anus.
Parts of a Standing bird X
Head Feathers and Markings X
Parts of a Flying bird X