Gull-billed Tern Life History


Habitat ShorelinesBreeds on gravelly or sandy beaches. Winters in salt marshes, estuaries, lagoons and plowed fields, less frequently along rivers, around lakes and in fresh-water marshes.Back to top


Food InsectsFish, insects, lizards, aquatic animals, occasionally chicks of other birds.Back to top


Nest Placement

Nest Ground

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:1-7 eggs
Condition at Hatching:Downy, eyes open, able to walk but stays in nest.
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Behavior Aerial ForagerPlucks prey from ground while in flight, catches flying insects. Does not generally plunge-dive for fish.Back to top


Conservation Low ConcernPopulations of Gull-billed Tern appear erratic, but overall were stable between 1966 and 2014 - with the exception of California, where numbers declined by 98% during that time - according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The North American Waterbird Conservation Plan estimates between 6,000 to 8,000 breeding birds in North America. They rate the species a 14 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and lists it a Species of High Concern. The North American population of Gull-billed Tern is on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, which lists bird species that are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered without conservation action. These birds are also listed as "species of special concern" in California.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, DC, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Molina, K. C., J. F. Parnell and R. M. Erwin. (2014). Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica), version 2.0. 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 Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (2014b). Available from

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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