Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Black Terns

Last summer was heavily saturated with Black Terns, which is basically the same thing as what they call "living the dream". Of course, I was not in a dream-like state, I was in North Dakota, working as a Piping Ploverer for Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge. Lostwood had at least a couple of Black Tern nesting colonies, and nearby Des Lacs National Widlife Refuge had thousands of Black Terns once fall migration started.


Since birders tend to shun the prairie states (FOR SHAME), most don't get the opportunity to see Black Terns very often. North Dakota is not for the faint of heart, but it will reward you with quality avian goodness.

All photos today are from Lostwood and Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuges, ND.

Black Terns make other terns appear clumsy and uncomfortable in the air. They are our only tern who are equally comfortable plucking insects from the sky and grabbing fish underwater.

Their reflexes and ability to turn on a dime are an inspiration to us all.

Here is a juvenile Black Tern in a more normal position. Note the especially short-winged and short-tailed appearance that very young birds have...they look deceptively not airworthy.

This time of year a lot of adults are heavily molting and have a distinct patchy appearance.

Black Terns will be migrating south across the continent for the next couple of months, with most arriving on their Central American wintering grounds by November. Stop lurking on the listservs and find one yourself.

Of course, earlier in the year Black Terns have a very well-deserved name. Only White-winged Terns look anything like this, and if you claim to find one while standing on American soil, be prepared to document it as if your life depended on it.

You will figure out if Black Terns are nesting nearby if you look up and see something like this. Getting attacked by Black Terns is feel honored that such a quality bird has dained to acknowledge your humble presence, but you have also just shat yourself in fear. And let me tell you folks....its hard to put a positive spin on having poo in your pants.

A winning bird, plain and simple.


  1. They are moving through Hatteras. I spent countless hours on the beaches, learning my Sandwich/Forster's/Common/Caspian/Gull-billed/Black/Royals it was bliss no terns in the desert.

  2. Looks like fun. If you look at them long enough, do you get a black eye?

    Perhaps some will stop by the Salton Sea in a couple weeks...

    1. They are waiting for you...they're pretty common there during migration.

  3. Beautiful shots! You put my black tern catches to shame. We get a couple of hundred stopping by during migration. They are just hitting our beach now.

    By the way, I spent a week in South Dakota last September and didn't see a single bird. I must have been in the wrong Dakota.

    1. Thanks Dina. I'm sorry you got the wrong Dakota...I have not been to that one, so cannot explain its apparent lack of birdlife.

  4. Once you go Arctic, you never go back to black.