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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Least Tern

Sternula antillarum ORDER: CHARADRIIFORMES FAMILY: LARIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The smallest of American Terns, the Least Tern is found nesting on sandy beaches along the southern coasts of the United States and up the major river systems far into the interior of the continent.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
8.3–9.1 in
21–23 cm
Wingspan
18.9–20.9 in
48–53 cm
Weight
1.1–1.6 oz
30–45 g
Other Names
  • Petite Sterne (French)
  • Charrán mínimo, Golondrinita marina, Gallito (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The Least Tern prefers sandy beaches for nesting, but it will use a flat gravel roof of a building. On sunny days the hot tar showing through the gravel can burn the feet of chicks or become stuck in their down.

Habitat


Shore-line

Seacoasts, beaches, bays, estuaries, lagoons, lakes and rivers, breeding on sandy or gravelly beaches and banks of rivers or lakes, rarely on flat rooftops of buildings.

Food


Fish

Small fish. Some invertebrates.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Condition at Hatching
Downy, eyes open, able to walk but stays in nest.
Nest Description

Shallow scrape in sand, soil, or pebbles.

Nest Placement

Ground

Behavior


Aerial Dive

Plunges into water from flight; may hover briefly before plunging.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Although widespread and common in places, the Least Tern's favored nesting habitat is prized for human recreation, residential development, and alteration by water diversion, which interfere with successful nesting in many areas. It is classified as threatened, endangered, or as a species of concern for most states because of loss of nesting habitat. Interior population federally listed as endangered in 1985.

Credits

  • Thompson, B. C., J. A. Jackson, J. Burger, L. A. Hill, E. M. Kirsch, and J. L. Atwood. 1997. Least Tern (Sterna antillarum). In The Birds of North America, No. 290 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C.

Range Map Help

Least Tern Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings