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Bird name:

Common Tern

Sterna hirundo




Terns (Sternidae)





Euring 5

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Breeding Location:

Beaches, sandy or shingle, Seashore, sandy or rocky

Breeding Type:

Monogamous, Colonial

Egg Colour:

Smooth and cream, buff, olive or tinted greenish with black, brown or olive specks, spots, blotches and sometimes streaks.

Number of Eggs:

1 - 4

Incubation Days:

21 - 22

Egg Incubator:

Both sexes

Nest Material:

Depression sometimes lined with vegetation.

Nest Location:

Sandy ground




Common Tern: Medium-sized tern with light grey upperparts, paler grey underparts, glossy black cap and nape. Wings dark-tipped. Red bill is black-tipped. Legs red and tail forked and elongated. Graceful flight, hovers above water before diving for prey. Sexes similar. In winter, bill is black, there is a dark bar on the leading edge of the forewing, and the front is white. Juveniles like winter adults but with sandy-brown on the back, wings, and front, dark bar on the secondaries, orange legs, and bill shorter with orange lower mandible.

Range and Habitat

Common Tern: Migrant breeder in the UK & Ireland. Breeding grounds include most of the UK except for southwestern England where it is scarce. Birds are seen spring through early autumn. Can be found along rocky beaches, on estuaries and marshes. Breeds inland.

Breeding and Nesting

Common Tern: Most nesting is colonial, among rocks and cliffs, on coasts and islands. Both sexes build a shallow scrape in soil or sand and line it with shells, vegetation, and debris. Both parents feed the young, which can fly within a month but stay with parents for several months.

Foraging and Feeding

Common Tern: Feeds primarily on herring, whiting, haddock, small fish. Also eat minnows if near fresh water. Early in the breeding season, may also eat insects, crabs, shrimp, worms, mollusks, fish eggs, and other marine invertebrates.


Common Tern: Call is a harsh, rolling "kee-urr" with a downward inflection.

Similar Species

Common Tern: The Arctic Tern has very similar plumage, but is slightly larger, has a longer bill and legs, larger head, broader wings, and a shorter tail. The Roseate Tern has more black on the length of the bill and more white in the tail feathers.


Belly, undertail coverts, chest, flanks, and foreneck.

Back, rump, hindneck, wings, and crown.
The area on top of the head of the bird.
Lower mandibleX
The lower part of the bill.
Also called the hindneck or collar, it is the back of the neck where the head joins the body.
Flight feathers that are attached to the wing in the area similar to the human forearm and between the body and the primaries.
4 and 6 letter alpha codesX

The four letter common name alpha code is is derived from the first two letters of the common first name and the first two letters of common last name. The six letter species name alpha code is derived from the first three letters of the scientific name (genus) and the first three letters of the scientific name (species). See (1) below for the rules used to create the codes..

Four-letter (for English common names) and six-letter (for scientific names) species alpha codes were developed by Pyle and DeSante (2003, North American Bird-Bander 28:64-79) to reflect A.O.U. taxonomy and nomenclature (A.O.U. 1998) as modified by Supplements 42 (Auk 117:847-858, 2000) and 43 (Auk 119:897-906, 2002). The list has been updated by Pyle and DeSante to reflect changes reported by the A.O.U from 2003 through 2006.


The Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) was established in the mid-1990 s as a cooperative project among several federal agencies to improve and expand upon taxonomic data (known as the NODC Taxonomic Code) maintained by the National Oceanographic Data Center (NODC), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

To find the ITIS page for a bird species go to the ITIS web site advanced search and report page at You can enter the TSN or the common name of the bird. It will return the ITIS page for that bird. Another way to obtain the ITIS page is to use the Google search engine. Enter the string ITIS followed by the taxonomic ID, for example "ITIS 178041" will return the page for the Allen's Hummingbird.

Parts of a Standing birdX
Head Feathers and MarkingsX
Parts of a Flying birdX