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Description of the Caspian Tern


The Caspian Tern is a very large tern with pale gray upperparts, white underparts, a black cap, and a large red bill. The legs are black.  Length: 21 in.  Wingspan: 50 in.

caspian tern


caspian tern 3 down gl
Photograph © Greg Lavaty.


The sexes are similar.

Seasonal change in appearance

Winter adults have a paler black cap.


Immature birds have dusky areas on the upperparts, and a paler, more orange bill.


Caspian Terns inhabit coastal areas and large lakes.


Caspian Terns eat fish.


Caspian Terns forage by plunging into the water after fish.


Caspian Terns breed in central Canada, and parts of the northern and western U.S., and they are resident along the Gulf Coast. They occur in migration over much of the U.S., but more commonly in the east. The population is stable or increasing.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Caspian Tern.

Wing Shape

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

Fun Facts

The Caspian Tern nests on five continents and is the largest tern in the world.

Caspian Terns first breed at age three.


The voice is a harsh scream.


The Caspian Tern’s nest is a depression on the ground near debris or driftwood.


caspian tern chicks


Number: Usually lay 1-3 eggs.
Color: Buffy with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 20-22 days, and leave the nest in 30-35 days, though they associate with the adults for some time.