Black Tern

Black Tern Breeding Adult
Black Tern – Breeding Adult
Black Tern Nonbreeding Adult
Black Tern – Nonbreeding Adult
Black Tern Juvenile
Black Tern – Juvenile

Black Terns are an exception to the white coloring of most seabirds.

Breeding adult Black Terns have distinct black heads and bodies with dark gray backs and wings. Their bills are long, slender, slightly downward curved, and also black. 

Nonbreeding adults have white faces, black caps and ear patches, white underparts, and brown-gray tails. Juveniles are similar but with brown hues and some barring instead of just dark gray and black on their backs. Their wings are pale gray. 

Molting adults have dark gray backs and wings and a combination of black and white on their heads and underparts. 

  • Chlidonias niger
  • Length: 9.1 – 14.2 in (23 – 36 cm) 
  • Weight: 1.8 – 2.1 oz (50 – 60 g)
  • Wingspan: 22.4 – 23. 6 in (57  – 60 cm)


Black Terns breed in North America, Europe, and Central Asia and migrate to Central America or west Africa for winter.

Habitat And Diet

You can find Black Terns colonies nesting in large freshwater marshes and edges of lakes. They are also found in smaller marshes, wet meadows, rice fields, and river islands. During the non-breeding season, they are around larger lakes, coastal waters, estuaries, and flooded farm fields near the ocean. 

Black Terns search for food from the air and then swoop down and capture them with their bills. They often capture small fish this way. They sometimes chase flying insects like grasshoppers, locusts, and flies, too. 

Black Tern Calls:


Nests of Black Terns are located away from the shore, usually where the sites are protected from wind and waves. Floating platforms on marsh vegetation with sufficient cover from cattails are ideal. Both males and females construct the nests from dead vegetation and the female lays two to four eggs that are incubated for twenty-one to twenty-two days.

Fun Fact:

Black Terns are known to hybridize with White-winged Black Terns and their hybrids are shown to exhibit a combination of both species.