Photo: Andy Morffew/Flickr Creative Commons

Sandwich Tern

Thalasseus sandvicensis

A slim, long-billed tern, swift and graceful in flight. Strictly coastal in the southeastern states. Larger than the typical terns of the Forster's / Common sort, but distinctly smaller than Royal or Caspian terns. Might be thought of as the Royal Tern's sidekick; typically found with that species, usually even nesting in mixed colonies with it, but tends to be less numerous. Named after the town of Sandwich in County Kent, England, where this tern was first discovered.
Conservation status Probably went through serious decline in late 1800s when eggs were harvested from many colonies. Has made a slow comeback in many areas, but still uncommon. Still vulnerable to disturbance or destruction of nesting sites.
Family Gulls and Terns
Habitat Coastal waters, jetties, beaches. Favors warm waters near coastlines, often fairly shallow areas such as bays and estuaries near extensive beaches, mudflats. Sometimes forages farther out to sea. Nests on sandy islands, beaches, sandbars, in coastal lagoons or offshore.
A slim, long-billed tern, swift and graceful in flight. Strictly coastal in the southeastern states. Larger than the typical terns of the Forster's / Common sort, but distinctly smaller than Royal or Caspian terns. Might be thought of as the Royal Tern's sidekick; typically found with that species, usually even nesting in mixed colonies with it, but tends to be less numerous. Named after the town of Sandwich in County Kent, England, where this tern was first discovered.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, breeding
  • adults, breeding
  • juvenile
  • adult, nonbreeding
Feeding Behavior

Forages by plunging headfirst into water from flight (often hovering first), and emerging immediately with fish held in bill. Sometimes catches insects in flight.


Eggs

1-2, rarely 3. Pale cream, blotched with black, brown, gray. Incubation is by both parents, 21-29 days. Young: If colony subject to disturbance, young may leave nest after a few days and gather in group (called "creche") with others. Young bird recognizes its own parents by voice, comes out of creche to be fed when they approach. Age at first flight about 28-32 days; young may remain with parents another 4 months.


Young

If colony subject to disturbance, young may leave nest after a few days and gather in group (called "creche") with others. Young bird recognizes its own parents by voice, comes out of creche to be fed when they approach. Age at first flight about 28-32 days; young may remain with parents another 4 months.

Diet

Mostly fish. Feeds mainly on smaller fish, such as sand lance and mullet; also eats shrimp, squid, marine worms, and many insects.


Nesting

Usually first breeds at age of 3-4 years. Nests in colonies, very often associated with Royal Terns. Early in courtship, high spiraling flight with long descending glides. On ground, male feeds fish to female; both birds may point bills up, droop wings, turn heads from side to side. Nest site is on ground in open spot. Nest (built by both sexes) is shallow scrape, sometimes lined with bits of debris.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Withdraws in winter from most of Atlantic Coast north of Florida. Along much of Gulf Coast, more common in summer than winter, indicating some southward migration from there. Very rare inland except in Florida, where occasional in migration and after storms.

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Migration

Withdraws in winter from most of Atlantic Coast north of Florida. Along much of Gulf Coast, more common in summer than winter, indicating some southward migration from there. Very rare inland except in Florida, where occasional in migration and after storms.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Loud harsh curr-it.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Gulls and Terns Gull-like Birds

Sandwich Tern

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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