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Forster's Tern

Forster's Tern
Sterna forsteri
Gull-like Birds | Family: Gulls and Terns, Laridae

An estimated 13% of the species' North American population breeds within the Boreal Forest.



One of the few exclusively North American terns, Forster's is so similar to the Common Tern that it was not recognized as a distinct species until 1831. Its preference for marshes enables it to avoid competition with the Common Tern, which favors sandy or pebbly beaches and rocky islands. It was named after Johann Reinhold Forster (1729-1798), a German pastor-naturalist who accompanied Captain Cook around the world in 1772.


14-15" (36-38 cm). White with pale gray back and wings, black cap, and deeply forked tail. Bill orange with black tip. Similar to Common Tern, but wing tips frosty white, bill more orange. In winter, lacks black cap but has distinctive black mark behind eye.


Harsh nasal beep.


3 or 4 buff, spotted eggs on a large platform of dead grass lined with finer grasses, usually placed on masses of dead marsh vegetation. Nests in colonies.


Freshwater marshes in West; salt marshes in East.


Breeds along Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts to Texas and in interior from Alberta and California east to Great Lakes. Winters along coasts from California and Virginia southward.