|Conservation status||Steadily declining at southern end of breeding range on Atlantic Coast. Elsewhere no obvious trend. Most of very extensive range is remote from effects of human activities.|
|Family||Gulls and Terns|
|Habitat||Open ocean, rocky coasts, islands; in summer, also tundra lakes. At sea for most of year, in wide variety of situations, but seems to spend most time over cold waters and well offshore. Nests on islands, gravel beaches, coastal tundra; also far inland around lakes, rivers, ponds in tundra regions.|
Forages mostly by flying slowly upwind, hovering briefly, then plunging to catch prey below water's surface. Sometimes dips down in flight to take items from surface, or chases flying insects in the air. Despite its small size, may steal food from other birds, swooping at them to startle them into dropping their catch.
1-3. Buff to pale olive, blotched with black and brown. Incubation is by both parents, 20-24 days. Parents are vigorous in defense of nest, will dive at and strike intruders. Young: Leave nest 1-3 days after hatching, find place to hide nearby. Both parents bring food for young. Age at first flight 21-28 days; young remain with parents another 1-2 months.
Leave nest 1-3 days after hatching, find place to hide nearby. Both parents bring food for young. Age at first flight 21-28 days; young remain with parents another 1-2 months.
Fish, crustaceans, insects. Diet varies with season and location; mostly small fish and crustaceans, also many insects in summer on breeding grounds. Also known to eat mollusks, marine worms, earthworms, rarely berries.
Usually first breeds at age of 3-4 years. Nests in colonies, sometimes with other terns. Much of courtship is aerial, with groups and pairs performing high flights. Male may fly over colony carrying fish, wings beating high above back. On ground, pair of birds posture, bow, strut in circles; male presents fish to female. Nest site is on ground in the open. Nest (built by both sexes) is a shallow scrape, usually lined with a few bits of plant material, debris.
Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds
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Most migration is offshore. In spring migration, some may move up the St. Lawrence River and then fly overland to James Bay and Hudson Bay; others may come overland from farther south on Atlantic Coast, but very few records inland in spring. Strays found in the interior in fall are mostly young birds.
- All Seasons - Common
- All Seasons - Uncommon
- Breeding - Common
- Breeding - Uncommon
- Winter - Common
- Winter - Uncommon
- Migration - Common
- Migration - Uncommon
See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.Learn more
Songs and CallsHarsh tee-ar or kip-kip-kip-tee-ar, higher pitched than call of Common Tern.
Learn more about this sound collection.