A graceful tern, easily distinguishable in their black summer plumage, which they're named after.
The black tern is a small and graceful member of the tern family. Black terns are are most distinctive during the breeding season, when they have a mostly dark plumage. In this plumage the wings, back and belly are a slate-grey colour. In their alternative plumage, black terns have pale grey upperparts with white below and a dark patch on on the breast. The head is white and has a dark central crown. The bills are black and legs are a dark red. Both sexes look similar, with females slightly greyer during breeding.
Juvenile black terns look similar to the adult alternative plumage but will usually have a pale brown colour on their foreheads and backs.
Black terns are relatively quiet compared to other gulls and become most vocal at their breeding colonies. The short call that is commonly heard is a "kip" or "kik" sound. There aren't any differences between the calls of both sexes, other than the male's copulation rattle.
Black Tern call
Ron Overholtz, XC580533. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/580533.
Black tern in flight
Black terns mainly feed on a mixture of small fish and insects, but diets will vary throughout the year. Whilst at breeding grounds, they will also eat snails, tadpoles and frogs.
These birds will often catch their food by diving down and picking it up from the water's surface. They will also catch insects in the air from time to time, with some impressive chases on insects like dragonflies lasting up to ten seconds.
Black terns can usually be seen in the UK between April and May whilst on their spring passage and then again on their autumn passage between July and August. The best places are usually reservoirs, gravel pits and freshwater lakes, but they can be seen in most places around the country.
Juvenile black tern
Black terns are much easier to identify in their summer plumage when they're mainly black. They're also gregarious birds and will often gather in large flocks.
These birds rarely will dive into the water to catch prey. Instead, they often will be found gathering around predatory fish or dolphins where they have driven up prey to the waters surface.
Black terns form long-lasting bonds with other birds, and they will mostly breed in small colonies of less than 100 pairs, but usually around 20 pairs. Nests are built rapidly on the water out of plant material or on floating mats of vegetation. Breeding takes place between May and June. Females lay clutches of 2-3 eggs that both parents then incubate for around 20 days. Black terns are ready to start breeding when they reach two years old.
Nest of a black tern
The average lifespan for a black tern is around 10 years, although they can live for over 20 years.
BreedingSpain The United Kingdom Belarus Belgium Bosnia and Herzegovina Bulgaria Croatia Denmark Estonia Finland Germany Greece Hungary Kazakhstan Iceland Latvia Lithuania Macedonia Moldova Montenegro Netherlands Poland Portugal Romania Russia Serbia Slovakia Slovenia Sweden Turkey Ukraine Czechia Kyrgyzstan Mongolia Russia Canada United States of America Saint Pierre and Miquelon Armenia Azerbaijan Georgia Southern Russia
PassageSpain Italy France Austria Belgium Croatia Denmark Germany Greece Hungary Netherlands Poland Romania Russia Slovakia Slovenia Sweden Turkey Ukraine Gibraltar Senegal Sudan Iran Iraq Jordon Lebanon Palestine Russia Syria Turkmenistan Bahrain Kuwait Oman Saudi Arabia United Arab Emirates Yemen Saint Pierre and Miquelon Costa Rica Southern Russia
Named in honour of the French naturalist and ornithologist, Jean Victor Audouin (1797 – 1841) the Audouin’s gull is one of the world’s rarest and is limited in the main to regions within and surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.
Terns are water birds from the family Sternidae and are expert fish catchers. There are generally considered to be forty five separate species of terns worldwide. Generally smaller than gulls but with long tails, thin bodies and short legs, they are long distance migrants.
There are four sub-species of the common gull with the European variant being the nominate. The other three are the Russian, Kamchatka and American, which are all predominantly confined to the geographical region attributed by their name. There are subtle differences in plumage and overall size of bird between sub-species.
The title of Black-headed Gull is rather a misnomer for this bird as its head is not black but a dark brown colour and only in adult birds during the breeding season. It is not present during the winter months or in other plumages. Unlike many gulls it is not restricted to coastal regions and is widespread inland in both rural and urban areas.