Black Tern


Common Name: Black Tern

Class:  Aves

Order: Charadriiformes

Family: Sturnidae

Genus: Chlidonias

Species: Chlidonias niger




The Black Tern is part of the tern family Sturnidae so they are related to other terns like the Common Tern, Caspian Tern and Forester's Tern. The Black Tern is the only tern in North America that is mostly black during the breeding season, making it easy to recognizable. Male and female Black Terns look alike and during the non-breeding season these birds have a lighter gray body with black smudges on the chest and the front of their wings. There is also a dark cap leading to two lines of black on the side of the face.


During the non-breeding season the Black Tern is found in the coast of Mexico and South where they will eat mostly small fish that they can find on the surface of the water. When the Black Tern migrates to the plains of Canada and northern United States where there are large expanses of wetlands for Black Terns to nest. Black Terns normally so not nest where there is a lot of  open space especially near other wetlands. During the breeding season the Black Tern consumes mostly insects including dragonflies, grasshoppers, beetles, spiders and will occasionally consume fish if they are in the habitat.




Nests are made as soon as pair formations have formed and are made of dead vegetation collected directly from the vicinity of the nest site where it is then gathered in a cup. Usually because the nest is situated on top of the water the nest is frequently saturated with water and falls apart easily and so the parents have to continually reinforce the nest all season. Eggs are laid synchronously with other Black Tern pairs and 3 eggs are commonly laid in a clutch. After the eggs are laid both the female and the male will incubate the eggs until around 21 days when the eggs hatch.  After this the young terns learn over the course of 15 days how to recognize their parent, how to eat and how to move around. After this learning period the young and parents move to an open feeding area where the parents will feed their chicks and the young terns will practice hunting for insects and fish.




Black Terns are only commonly found in Western New York during the summer in Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge at Cayuga overlook. They are also seen during migratory season near the Niagara River.


Birds of Western New York is brought to you by the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.