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Forster's Tern

Silhouette TernsTerns
Forster's TernSterna forsteri
  • ORDER: Charadriiformes
  • FAMILY: Laridae

Basic Description

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
image of range map for Forster's Tern
Range map provided by Birds of the World
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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.

Other Names

  • Charrán de Forster (Spanish)
  • Sterne de Forster (French)
  • Cool Facts