North America's smallest tern is tiny when compared to other mostly white terns. Alternate Adult: Combines a diagnostic all-yellow bill with black cap and crisply marked white forehead. Back and upper wings are silvery gray and the underparts and tail are entirely white. In flight the black outer primaries contrast sharply with pale gray inner primaries to create a distinctive wedge of black on the upper wing surface. When perched, wingtips extend past the tip of the tail. Basic Adult: Lacks black in wings, has all-dark bill, and shows less crisp demarcation between the white forehead and black cap. First Summer: Resembles a miniature first-year Common Tern, with a mostly white crown, black eye mask that connects across the nape, a dark carpal bar on the folded wing, and dusky gray flight feathers. Like other terns, juvenile is heavily patterned on the upperparts with buffy brown margins on the back and coverts and some brown on the crown. Bill mostly dark, with some stray yellow towards the base. Sexes similar.
Length: 23 (cm) Wingspan: 51 (cm)
Single and double note calls, shrill, harsh, and nasal.
Coastal areas, beaches, and large rivers.
Breeds colonially in sandy areas, laying eggs directly in a scrape in the sand. Has been recorded nesting on gravel rooftops. Many populations threatened by habitat loss.
Plunge-dives to catch fish, sometimes hovering briefly before diving into water.
Expanded Life History
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