- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Laridae
Gull-billed Terns are graceful fliers that swoop above saltmarshes and beaches. They're pale silvery gray and white, with a shallowly forked tail, heavy bill, and (in summer) a neat black cap. The heavy bill is a key to its diet, which is broader than a typical tern's and does not center on fish. They forage in the air for insects, seize crabs and lizards from the ground, pluck fish from the water surface (without diving into the water), steal food from other birds, and even prey on chicks of other species.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Look for Gull-billed Terns over saltmarshes and sandy beaches along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Watch for a medium-sized tern that doesn't fly like most terns: their flight is less direct and more swooping as they catch insects or pick prey from the water/ground. You won't see them plunging into the water like other terns. They also tend to occur in small numbers (not flocks) and don't associate closely with other tern species.
- Pagaza Piconegra (Spanish)
- Sterne hansel (French)
- Cool Facts
- Unlike most terns, Gull-billed Terns have a broad diet and do not depend on fish. Instead they commonly feed on insects, small crabs, and other prey snatched from the ground, air, or even bushes. They are also known to eat small chicks of other tern species.
- Gull-billed Terns are surprisingly widespread, part of an exclusive group of species (e.g. Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Glossy Ibis, Barn Owl, Peregrine Falcon, European Starling, and House Sparrow) that breed on every continent except Antarctica.
- Although mostly restricted to saltwater habitats in North America, Gull-billed Terns are found in a variety of freshwater habitats across Eurasia.
- The oldest recorded Gull-billed Tern lived to be at least 20 years old and was found, and banded, in California.