A slender tern of the Atlantic coast, this species is one of several small white terns that do not attain a definitive alternate plumage until at least their third spring (nearly three years after hatch date). Alternate Adult has pale gray wings and back, white underparts with faint pink wash on the breast, long white forked tail, short red legs, black cap and nape, and slender black bill. First summer birds very similar to basic-plumaged birds, but usually have black legs. Second summer show a weak carpal bar but otherwise look like alternate-plumaged adults. Basic Adult has dark primaries, white forehead, and lacks pink. First Basic retains juvenile flight feathers into its first spring, when most will be replaced. Sexes are similar. Juvenile has heavy black, scalloped, scaly pattern on back, black legs, and a dark forehead.
Length: 32 (cm) Wingspan: 73 (cm)
Double-noted, harsh calls, rasping noises, single high notes.
Nests on rocky islands, winters at sea.
Breeds colonially; nests on ground under rock or other protective covering. Most populations in North America are threatened by habitat loss.
Plunge-dives to catch fish, sometimes hovering before diving into water.
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