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Forster's Tern - Sterna forsteri

forsters tern


 Kingdom: Animalia
 Phylum: Chordata
 Class: Aves
 Order: Charadriiformes
 Family: Laridae
 Genus:   Sterna
ICUN Redlist - World Status: Least ConcernLeast Concern


Forster's TernForster's tern is a medium-sized and slender tern. It is 13-15 inches in length with a wingspan of 30-31 inches. It has white undersides and a white throat and breast, a light gray back, and white-tipped gray wings. It has a black cap on its head, a deeply forked gray tail, orange legs and feet, and a long orange bill with a black tip. In the winter, it loses the black cap on its head and its bill turns black. It also develops black patches on its eyes and on the side of its head. Males and females look alike.


mapForster's tern is found along the Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts south to Florida, on the California coast, on the Gulf Coast, along the Great Lakes, and in scattered locations in Nevada, southern Idaho, Utah, Colorado, the Midwest, and south central Canada. It winters along the Pacific Coast south to Central America and along the Atlantic Coast from Virginia south to the Caribbean.


Forster's TernForster's tern breeds on freshwater and saltwater marshes and estuaries. In the winter, it is found on marshes, lakes, rivers, and beaches.



Forster's TernForster's tern eats small fish. It flies over the water and then dives below the surface to snatch up its prey. It also eats insects from the surface of the water.

Life Cycle

Forster's TernForster's tern nests in colonies. The nest is an unlined scrape in the mud or sand, or it is a platform of dead grass and marsh vegetation. It may also build its nest on a muskrat house! The female lays 3-4 eggs and the male and the female incubate the them for 24 days. Both parents care for and feed the chicks. The chicks fledge when they are 27-30 days old but stay with their parents until they migrate in the fall.


Forster's TernForster's tern is the only tern species that is found only in North America. It is named after Johann Reinhold Forster, a German naturalist who accompanied Captain Cook on his second voyage around the world from 1772-1775.

Audio Credit: xeno-canto.org Chris Parrish cc logo