Sterna Hirundo – Common Tern

Sterna Hirundo - Common Tern found in the US

The common tern, Sterna hirundo is a seabird species belonging to the Laridae family. This bird breeds in temperate and subarctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. It is a migratory species, wintering in tropical and subtropical coastal regions.

Quick Overview: Sterna Hirundo – Common Tern
Body size: Around 13-16 in (33-41 cm) and a weight of 146 g (5.15 oz)
Main colors: Gray, White, Black, Orange-red
Range: Throughout the United States
Migratory Bird: Yes
Best time of the year to see in the U.S.: March, April, May, September, October, November
Conservation Status: Least Concern

Common Tern Description

It is a migratory species, wintering in tropical and subtropical coastal regions. Adults in breeding plumage are light gray above and white to very light grey below, with a black hat, orange-red legs, and a slender pointed bill.

Sterna Hirundo - Common Tern found in the US
Sterna Hirundo – Common Tern. Photo by: Gailhampshire


These birds have a length of 13-16 in (33-41 cm) and a weight of 146 g (5.15 oz). Their wings could range from 30-31 in (76-79 cm).


Terns may consume insects, annelids, and echinoderms in addition to fish during the breeding season.


Sand and shell beaches, grassy uplands, and rocky inland coasts are preferred environments.


Colonies of common terns exist. The birds do not appear to have a clearly defined hierarchy; they all appear to be equal. While all terns move and coexist, each family unit is responsible for feeding and caring for its own eggs/chicks. They frequently guard feeding grounds. Terns breed in the spring and migrate at the end of the season.

Sterna Hirundo Scientific Classification

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

Best time of the year to see

In the United States, the best time of year to see these birds are during the Spring season (March-May) and during the Autumn season (September – November).

Distribution of the Common Tern in the USA

Breeds in North America along the Atlantic coast, from northern Canada’s Maritime Provinces to South Carolina, and infrequently in the Gulf of Mexico or on big interior lakes, as well as west to Alberta. Winters from the Atlantic coast’s southernmost breeding grounds to northern Ecuador and Brazil.

The Common Tern can be found in the following states in the United States – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Sterna Hirundo – Common Tern

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