Comprehensive Guide to selected species of:
Birds of the Boreal Forest « back to Guide
Black Tern Chlidonias niger
Family: Gulls and Terns, Laridae
An estimated 26% of the species' North American population breeds within the Boreal Forest.
Description 9-10" (23-25 cm). A medium-sized tern with solid black head and underparts; gray wings and moderately forked gray tail. In fall and winter, head and underparts white, with dusky smudging around eyes and back of neck.
Habitat Freshwater marshes and marshy lakes in summer; sandy coasts on migration and in winter.
Nesting 2 spotted, olive-buff eggs placed in a hollow on a mass of floating marsh vegetation or in a well-made cup of dead grass. Nests in colonies.
Voice Sharp kick; when disturbed, a shrill kreek.
Range Breeds from British Columbia east to New Brunswick and south to central California and New York. Winters south of U.S.-Mexico border, rarely in California. Also in Eurasia.
Discussion This tern usually nests in small groups and in shallow water. The nests are sometimes conspicuous; perhaps this is why the young often leave the nest at the first sign of an intruder, swimming quietly away to hide in the surrounding marsh vegetation. It is not unusual to visit an active colony and find all the nests empty. Unlike other terns, these birds frequently fly over land areas as they hawk for insects. Black Terns also eat small fish and crustaceans, which they pick from the water.