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Merlin Bird ID

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    Common Tern Life History


    Habitat ShorelinesNests on islands, marshes, and sometimes beaches of lakes and ocean.Back to top


    Food FishSmall fish. Some invertebrates.Back to top


    Nest Placement

    Nest Ground

    Nest Description

    Pile of dead vegetation on ground. May have no material.

    Nesting Facts
    Clutch Size:1-4 eggs
    Egg Description:Olive to buff, marked with numerous small spots and blotches of dark brown, often concentrated around the larger end.
    Condition at Hatching:Downy, eyes open, able to walk but stays in nest.
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    Behavior Aerial Dive (water)Plunges into water from flight; may hover briefly before plunging.Back to top


    Conservation Low ConcernCommon Tern is the most widespread tern in North American, however, populations declined between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The North American Waterbird Conservation Plan estimates a population of 300,000 breeding birds on the continent and rates them an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and lists them as a Species of Low Concern. They are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Common Tern populations severely depleted in late 19th century for millinery trade, but recovered with protection. However, populations had declined again by the 1970s, probably from pesticide poisoning. There has been some recovery since then, but the species is still in trouble in some areas. Common Tern are listed as endangered, threatened, or of special concern in many states.Back to top


    Kushlan, J. A., M. J. Steinkamp, K. C. Parsons, J. Capp, M. A. Cruz, M. Coulter, I. Davidson, L. Dickson, N. Edelson, R. Elliott, R. M. Erwin, S. Hatch, S. Kress, R. Milko, S. Miller, K. Mills, R. Paul, R. Phillips, J. E. Saliva, W. Sydeman, J. Trapp, J. Wheeler and K. Wohl. 2002. Waterbird conservation for the Americas: The North American waterbird conservation plan, version 1. Washington, D.C.: Waterbird Conservation for the Americas.

    Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

    Nisbet, Ian C. T., Jennifer M. Arnold, Stephen A. Oswald, Peter Pyle and Michael A. Patten. 2017. Common Tern (Sterna hirundo), version 3.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

    North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2014. The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

    Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxtent Wildlife Research Center 2014b. Available from

    Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

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