Gelochelidon Nilotica – Gull-Billed Tern

Gelochelidon Nilotica - Gull-Billed Tern found in the US

The gull-billed tern (Gelochelidon nilotica), originally Sterna nilotica, is a species of tern belonging to the Laridae family. The genus name derives from the Ancient Greek gelao, which means “to laugh,” and khelidon, which means “to swallow.” The specific epithet niloticus derives from Latin and means Nile. Previously, the Australian gull-billed tern was designated a subspecies.

Quick Overview: Gelochelidon Nilotica – Gull-Billed Tern
Body size: Around 13-14 in (33-36 cm) and a weight of 238 g (8.2 oz)
Main colors: Gray, White, Black
Range: Coastal United States
Migratory Bird: Yes
Best time of the year to see in the U.S.: June, July, August, September
Conservation Status: Least Concern

Gull-billed Tern Description

Summer adults are gray above and white below, with a black hat, a powerful black bill, and black legs. The call is a distinctive ker-wik.

Gelochelidon Nilotica - Gull-Billed Tern found in the US
Gelochelidon Nilotica – Gull-Billed Tern. Photo by: Leppyone


These birds have a length of 13-14 in (33-36 cm) and a weight of 238 g (8.2 oz). Their wings could range from 33-34 in (84-86 cm).


A scavenger of a variety of terrestrial and aquatic species. Marine and terrestrial invertebrates frequently make up a significant amount of the diet.


Breeding habitats include beaches composed of sand, gravel, or shells, as well as grassy regions on coastal islands.


Flies over farm fields and wetlands in search of insects, its primary food source. Swoops over water in search of small prey; also consumes frogs, crabs, and earthworms.

Gelochelidon Nilotica Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Subphylum: Chelicerata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Charadriiformes
  • Family: Laridae
  • Genus: Gelochelidon
  • Species: Gelochelidon nilotica

Best time of the year to see

The best time to see these birds in the United States is during the summer season (June – September).

Distribution of the Gull-billed Tern in the USA

They breed in the eastern and southern coastal United States during the breeding season. Additionally, visible during the winter along the southern United States’ coastal regions. Its winter range extends to central South America’s coastal regions.

The Gull-billed Tern can be found in the following states in the United States – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Texas.

Gelochelidon Nilotica – Gull-Billed Tern

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