Already a subscriber? Sign in Don't have a subscription? Subscribe Now
Forster's Tern
Sterna forsteri
Order
CHARADRIIFORMES
– Family
LARIDAE
Authors: Mcnicholl, Martin K., Peter E. Lowther, and John A. Hall

Welcome to the Birds of North America Online!

Welcome to BNA Online, the leading source of life history information for North American breeding birds. This free, courtesy preview is just the first of 14 articles that provide detailed life history information including Distribution, Migration, Habitat, Food Habits, Sounds, Behavior and Breeding. Written by acknowledged experts on each species, there is also a comprehensive bibliography of published research on the species.

A subscription is needed to access the remaining articles for this and any other species. Subscription rates start as low as $5 USD for 30 days of complete access to the resource. To subscribe, please visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology E-Store.

If you are already a current subscriber, you will need to sign in with your login information to access BNA normally.

Subscriptions are available for as little as $5 for 30 days of full access! If you would like to subscribe to BNA Online, just visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology E-Store.

Introduction

Adult Forster's Tern; New Jersey, June
Immature Forster's Tern, first summer; Salton Sea, CA, early August.
Figure 1. Distribution of Forster’s Tern.

Forster’s Tern is the only tern restricted almost entirely to North America throughout the year. Its highest breeding numbers are found around south-central Manitoba, northern California—southern Oregon, and the Gulf Coast. Its centers of abundance in early winter match those of its coastal breeding areas, particularly around the Virginia–North Carolina border, Galveston Bay (Texas), and near Jacksonville, Florida. Similar in appearance and ecology to several other terns, it is primarily a marsh bird, although it is also found along Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts.

A “marsh tern,” this species breeds primarily in fresh, brackish, and saltwater marshes, including marshy borders of lakes, islands, or streams. It is found more often in open, deeper portions of marshes, generally in wetlands with considerable open water and large stands of island-like vegetation and/or large mats of floating vegetation. Along the Atlantic Coast, Forster’s Tern breeds in marshy portions of beach and estuarine areas. The suitability of nesting habitat is often ephemeral, varying at a given site from year to year.

Major studies on Forster’s Tern have focused on its breeding ecology in Manitoba (McNicholl 1971, 1980, 1982, 1983), feeding ecology in Minnesota (Fraser 1994a, 1997) and at San Francisco Bay, CA (Salt and Willard 1971), and vocalizations and behavior in Washington (Hall 1988, 1989, 1998).