The Black Tern is a small tern which in breeding plumage has a black head and underparts, dark gray wings and upperparts, and a white vent.
FemaleThe sexes are similar.
Seasonal change in appearance
Winter adults have a white forehead, nape, and underparts.
JuvenileImmature birds resemble winter adults, but have faintly barred backs.
HabitatBlack Terns inhabit freshwater marshes and lakes.
DietBlack Terns eat fish and insects.
BehaviorBlack Terns forage by plucking prey from the water’s surface, and by capturing insects in flight.
RangeIn North America, Black Terns breed across much of southern Canada and the northern U.S. They winter along the Pacific Coast of Central and South America, and can be seen in migration across most of the U.S. The population is declining.
Bent Life History
Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Black Tern.
The shape of a bird's wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species' identification.
Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History
The Black Tern’s choice of habitat changes dramatically with the changing season, from freshwater marshes in the summer to ocean during the winter.
Black Terns breed in colonies, often near Forster’s Terns.
VocalizationsCommon calls include a harsh 'keef.'
The Black Tern’s nest is a platform of vegetation floating in a marsh, or placed on top of a muskrat house.
Number: 2-4 eggs/
Incubation and fledging: