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Least Tern

Silhouette TernsTerns
Least TernSternula antillarum
  • ORDER: Charadriiformes
  • FAMILY: Laridae

Basic Description

Everything about the Least Tern is sharp, from its brilliant yellow bill, to its crisp black-and-white head pattern, to its slender pointed wings and forked tail. This smallest of the world's terns is a noisy presence around its breeding colonies and in coastal waters or broad inland rivers. They fly with jerky wingbeats, hover briefly as they take aim, and then dive into the water to catch small fish. Breeding males often bring these fish back to feed their mates, leading to graceful aerial displays.

More ID Info
image of range map for Least Tern
Range map provided by Birds of the World
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Find This Bird

Look for Least Terns during the breeding season by keying in on colony sites that are used from year to year. (On some popular beaches, colonies may be cordoned off to keep the near-invisible nests from being trampled.) Elsewhere, watch and listen for Least Terns along outer beaches, sandy islands in major rivers of the Mississippi drainage, and even on flat-roofed shopping centers in coastal towns. A spotting scope is helpful in getting good views of these tiny terns without disturbing them.

Other Names

  • Charrancito Americano (Spanish)
  • Petite Sterne (French)
  • Cool Facts