Living Bird Magazine
Forster's TernSterna forsteri
- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Laridae
Flashing slender, silvery wings and an elegantly forked tail, Forster's Terns cruise above the shallow waters of marshes and coastlines looking for fish. These medium-sized white terns are often confused with the similar Common Tern, but Forster’s Terns have a longer tail and, in nonbreeding plumage, a distinctive black eye patch. Where Common breeds on outer beaches and barrier islands, Forster’s nests farther inland, on edges of freshwater marshes and saltmarshes. It is the only medium-sized tern species found in the United States mainland in winter.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Forster’s Terns are most common and widespread in winter along ocean coasts and in the inland Southeast. Look for them especially around shorelines, bays, and marshes; at this time of year their thick black eye patch makes them distinctive. In summer they nest in large inland wetlands with plenty of open water, and in saltmarshes. They travel widely when feeding young, so watch for them along shorelines in marshy areas.
- Charrán de Forster (Spanish)
- Sterne de Forster (French)
- Cool Facts
- In the 1800s, Forster’s Terns and several other tern species were shot, stuffed, and mounted onto large hats that were fashionable during the Victorian and Edwardian era millinery trade. This practice ended with the passages of the Migratory Birds Convention Act in Canada (1917) and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the United States (1919).
- Forster's and Black Terns breed near each other in marshes. The young, downy chicks can wander away from the nest, and sometimes a parent feeds a young bird of the wrong species.
- Forster’s Terns winter farther north than any other North American tern species.
- The oldest known Forster's Tern was at least 15 years, 10 months old when it died from contaminants in California in 1989. It had been banded in the same state in 1973.