Least Tern

Least Tern Breeding Adult
Least Tern – Breeding Adult

Breeding adult Least Terns have distinctive black heads with a white patch and pointy bills, wings and tails (with are forked).

They look similar to Sandwich terns, but are smaller.

They have black hoods, white foreheads, yellow bills, pale gray backs and wings, white underparts, and yellow legs. Some have black tips on their yellow bills. In flight, they have a black edge on their outer feathers. 

Nonbreeding adult Least Terns have less pronounced black hoods. They are more smudgy and mottled. Their bills are dark. 

Juveniles have smudgy brown crowns, a black eyeline extending from the eye to the nape, black bills, and scale-patterned on their backs and wings.  Their legs are yellow-orange.

  • Sternula antillarum
  • Length: 8.3 – 9.1 in (21 – 23 cm)
  • Weight: 1.3 – 1.9 oz (36 – 54 g)
  • Wingspan: 18.9 – 20.9 in (48 – 53 cm)


Least Terns breed along the Atlantic Coast of the US, the Midwest and Central America.

Habitat And Diet

You can find Least Terns along sandy beaches, barrier islands, seacoasts, bays, estuaries, lagoons, lakes, and rivers. They favor nesting on sandy and shelly beaches, but may also nest on flat gravel rooftops, agricultural fields, and airports. 

Least Terns almost always eat small fish. They hunt over shallow water and dive into the water to catch shrimp, tadpoles, flying insects, and small fish.

Adult Least Terns sometimes have to fly long distances to deliver small fish to their young. 

Least Tern Calls:


Nests of Least Terns are usually shallow scrapes that both adults make but the female makes the final choice. Nests are often well-drained, despite being on sandy ground, with shells, pebbles, and other vegetation added to them. 

The female lays one to three eggs with an incubation period of nineteen to twenty-five days. Both parents take turns in the incubation of the eggs. 

Fun Fact:

Least Terns are the world’s smallest terns, weighing only as much as a mockingbird.