Black Tern

Scientific name: Chlidonias niger

Did you know: Black Terns lead a fascinating double life, spending summers in North American freshwater marshes and winters along tropical coasts!

What Do Black Terns Look Like? (how to identify them)

Black Terns are small terns distinguished by their all-black head and body, contrasting with grey wings, back, and tail in spring. 

Come autumn, their upperparts turn grey, underparts white, and they sport distinctive black head markings. This Schedule 1 species occasionally breeds in the UK, making it a prized sighting for bird enthusiasts.

Differences Between Male And Female Black Terns

Male and female Black Terns share similar appearances, both donning black plumage with a large white wing patch in summer. 

In winter, both sexes exhibit a white underbelly with grey upperparts.

What Do Black Terns Eat?

Black Terns primarily feed on insects, invertebrates, and fish, skillfully dipping down to pick food from water surfaces or catching flying insects in mid-air.

Where Do Black Terns Live? (inc. migration info)

Breeding predominantly in freshwater marshes across Canada, the northern United States, Europe, and Western Asia, Black Terns are also seen in the UK during migration. 

Large populations from the high Arctic migrate southwards in winter, adding a dynamic aspect to their presence in various habitats.

Bird Calls & Songs (the unique voices of Black Terns)

The call of a Black Tern is a high-pitched “kik,” and when in large flocks, their collective calls can be quite overwhelming. These calls are integral to their social behaviour and mating rituals.

Fun Black Tern Facts (kid friendly)

  • In summer, they boast a sleek black body with grey wings.
  • Black Terns are known for their agile flight, swooping gracefully over water.
  • They eat both insects and small fish, showcasing their adaptability.
  • They build nests in freshwater marshes, often on floating vegetation.
  • Some Black Terns travel from North American marshes to tropical coasts in winter.
  • Their collective calls are a noisy, yet fascinating aspect of their colonies.
  • Occasionally breeding in the UK, they are a special sight for birdwatchers.
  • Their appearance changes from summer to winter, adapting to environments.
  • They often feed by skimming over water surfaces, picking up their prey.

Black Tern Images

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Male
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Female
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Hatchling
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Nestling
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Chick
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Fledgling
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Juvenile

Facts About The Black Tern

Diet: Insects, invertebrates and fish.
Bird Family: Gulls and terns
Length: 22-24cm
Wingspan: 64-68cm
Weight: 73g
Scientific Name: Chlidonias niger

The Black Tern Can Be Seen In The UK During The Following Months

  • April
  • May
  • July
  • August
  • September