Sternula Antillarum – Least Tern

Sternula Antillarum - Least Tern found in the US

The least tern (Sternula antillarum) is a tern species that nests in North America and northern South America on a small scale. It is closely related to and was previously frequently regarded conspecific with, the Old World’s small tern. Additionally, the yellow-billed tern and Peruvian tern, both of which are found in South America, are near relatives.

Quick Overview: Sternula Antillarum – Least Tern
Body size: Around 8-9 in (20-23 cm) and a weight of 52 g (1.83 oz)
Main colors: Gray, White, Black, Yellow
Range: Central United States
Migratory Bird: Yes
Best time of the year to see in the U.S.: June, July, August, September
Conservation Status: Least Concern

Least Tern Description

The upper parts of this little tern are slate gray, while the underparts are white; the crown and nape are black, while the forehead is white. In-flight, the black leading edge of the outer wing is noticeable. It has a forked tail and yellow bill and foot.

Sternula Antillarum - Least Tern found in the US
Sternula Antillarum – Least Tern. Photo by: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region


These birds have a length of 8-9 in (20-23 cm) and a weight of 52 g (1.83 oz). Their wings could range from 19-20 in (48-51 cm).


The Least Tern’s food is primarily composed of small, shallow-bodied freshwater and saltwater fish, but it also includes small crabs and insects.


The Interior Least Tern’s nesting environment consists of barren or thinly vegetated sand, shell, and gravel beaches, sandbars, islands, and salt flats connected with rivers and reservoirs. Birds prefer wide habitats and avoid dense vegetation and secluded beaches.


The least terns feed by flying or hovering above water and diving into it when they spot something. They dive to capture prey on land or at the surface of the water. When least terns are in flight, they occasionally grab insects on their wings or beaks.

Sternula Antillarum Scientific Classification

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

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 Least Tern in the USA

Breeds along the California coast, along rivers in the Mississippi Valley, and south to Florida and the Gulf Coast, from Maine to Florida. Winters in the Central and northern South American shores.

The Least Tern can be found in the following states in the United States – Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming.

Sternula Antillarum – Least Tern

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