- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Laridae
Common Terns gracefully row through the sky showing off their long angular wings, and breeding season gray belly, black cap, and red bill. They dive towards the water picking off fish just below the surface. The Common Tern is the most widespread tern in North America, spending its winters as far south as Argentina and Chile. They are social birds, foraging in groups and nesting on the ground in colonies.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Like other terns, Common Terns aren't shy. They boisterously fly over open waters and rest out in the open, often perching on shorelines, boats, and piers. But Common Terns aren't just a coastal bird, they can also be found inland on freshwater lakes during the summer months, though they stick to coastal saltwater areas more frequently than similar-looking Forster's Terns. Although they tend to be rather obvious, they do hide among other similar looking terns.
- Charrán Común (Spanish)
- Sterne pierregarin (French)
This species may not come to bird feeders, but you can still provide nesting opportunities for this bird. A nest structure may attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Find out more about providing nest structures on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest structure of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.
- Cool Facts
- The Common Tern drinks on the wing, dipping its bill in the water with its wings held up. They can drink saltwater or freshwater—like many seabirds, they have nasal glands that excrete excess salt.
- Common Terns made an unfortunate appearance in women's fashion in the late 19th century. Feathers and sometimes entire terns were mounted on women's hats resulting in the near extirpation of terns from the Atlantic Coast. Thankfully their populations rebounded by the 1930s after passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918.
- Just like adding sandbags to prevent your home from flooding, Common Terns quickly add vegetation, bones, shell fragments, and anything else they can collect to raise their nest if it is threatened by high water.
- The oldest recorded Common Tern was at least 28 years, 11 months old, when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Massachusetts in 2005; the same state where it was banded in 1976.