|Conservation status||Abundant and widespread in tropical oceans around the world. Colonies on Tortugas and some in Hawaii are strictly protected.|
|Family||Gulls and Terns|
|Habitat||Warm tropical seas. Generally far out at sea, wandering widely but often following warm-water currents. Avoids shallow waters and areas near mainland coast. Nests mostly on small islands, on open sandy beaches with sparse vegetation.|
Forages by dipping down in flight to take fish from surface of water (or may take flying fish from above surface). Rarely or never plunges into water for prey below surface. Feeds mainly where small fish have been driven to surface by schools of large predatory fish, congregating quickly where such temporary concentrations of food exist.
One. Whitish, variably marked with brown, lavender, gray, sometimes black. Incubation is by both sexes, 28-30 days. On hot days, parents stand and shade the eggs. Young: Both parents feed young, regurgitating small fish. Young wanders in vicinity of nest, may return to it to be fed. Capable of flight at about 8-9 weeks, may stay around colony another 2-3 weeks.
Both parents feed young, regurgitating small fish. Young wanders in vicinity of nest, may return to it to be fed. Capable of flight at about 8-9 weeks, may stay around colony another 2-3 weeks.
Mostly fish, some squid. Feeds mainly on small fish that live in dense schools far out at sea. Also some small squid.
May not breed until age of 6 years or older. At Dry Tortugas, arrives in numbers two months before first eggs laid. At first, flocks visit site at night, circling over islands and calling, departing at dawn. Courtship involves high flight and gliding descent; on ground, birds strut and bow. Nest site is on ground, usually in open, sometimes under edge of shrubs. Nest (probably built by both sexes) is shallow scrape in soil, sometimes lined with a few leaves.
Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds
Download Our Bird Guide App
Young birds from Tortugas may move south through Caribbean and then east, to equatorial waters off West Africa, not returning for several years. Adults probably do not go as far, mostly dispersing in Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere in general region.
- 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 squeaky notes and croaks.
Learn more about this sound collection.