• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer
Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Gull-billed Tern

Gelochelidon nilotica ORDER: CHARADRIIFORMES FAMILY: LARIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Gull-billed Tern Photo

A medium-sized tern with broader wings and a thicker bill than most other terns, the Gull-billed Tern is found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States and very southern California.

Be a Better Birder Tutorial 4
Learn more about BirdSleuth

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
13–15 in
33–38 cm
Wingspan
35.8 in
91 cm
Weight
5.3–7.2 oz
150–205 g
Other Names
  • Sterne hansel (French)
  • Pico de gaviota, Golondrina playera (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Unlike most terns, the Gull-billed Tern has a broad diet and does not depend on fish. Instead it commonly feeds on insects, small crabs, and other prey snatched from the ground, air, or even bushes. It is also known to eat small chicks of other tern species.
  • Although mostly restricted to salt water habitats in North America, the Gull-billed Tern is found in a variety of fresh water habitats across Eurasia.

Habitat


Shore-line

Breeds on gravelly or sandy beaches. Winters in salt marshes, estuaries, lagoons and plowed fields, less frequently along rivers, around lakes and in fresh-water marshes.

Food


Insects

Fish, insects, lizards, aquatic animals, occasionally chicks of other birds.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–7 eggs
Condition at Hatching
Downy, eyes open, able to walk but stays in nest.
Nest Placement

Ground

Behavior


Flycatching

Plucks prey from ground while in flight, catches flying insects. Does not generally plunge-dive for fish.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Populations appear erratic, but mostly stable. Listed as "species of special concern" in California.

Credits

  • Parnell, J. F., R. M. Erwin, and K. C. Molina. 1995. Gull-billed Tern (Sterna nilotica). In The Birds of North America, No. 140 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia and The American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C.

Range Map Help

Gull-billed Tern Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings