A photo of a Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri)
Forster's Tern

Forster's Tern

Sterna forsteri

Forster's tern (Sterna forsteri) is a tern in the family Laridae. The genus name Sterna is derived from Old English "stearn", "tern", and forsteri commemorates the naturalist Johann Reinhold Forster. It breeds inland in North America and winters south to the Caribbean and northern Central America. This species is rare but annual in western Europe, and has wintered in Ireland and Great Britain on a number of occasions. No European tern winters so far north. This species breeds in colonies in marshes. It nests in a ground scrape and lays two or more eggs. Like all white terns, it is fiercely defensive of its nest and young. The Forster's tern feeds by plunge-diving for fish, but will also hawk for insects in its breeding marshes. It usually feeds from saline environments in winter, like most Sterna terns. It usually dives directly, and not from the "stepped-hover" favoured by the Arctic tern. The offering of fish by the male to the female is part of the courtship display. It is most similar to the common tern. It has pale grey upperparts and white underparts. Its legs are red and its bill is red, tipped with black. In winter, the forehead becomes white and a characteristic black eye mask remains. Juvenile Forster's terns are similar to the winter adult. The call is a harsh noise like a black-headed gull. This species is unlikely to be confused with the common tern in winter because of the black eye mask, but is much more similar in breeding plumage. Forster's has a grey centre to its white tail, and the upperwings are pure white, without the darker primary wedge of the common tern.
Birda logo
Download Birda for free and join the community of curious everyday people connecting with the natural world
Birda logo
Download Birda for free and join the community

Forster's Terns on Birda



A photo of a Forster's Tern photographed in Maumee River--Grand Rapids United States
Gabriel L
Sunday 24 Sep 2023 - 4:46pm
United States
A photo of a Forster's Tern photographed in Alviso Marina County Park (please use a specific pond hotspot where possible) United States
Profile picture for Winnie Poon
Winnie Poon
Saturday 23 Sep 2023 - 10:35pm
United States
A map showing the sighting location
Profile picture for Heather D
Heather D
Saturday 23 Sep 2023 - 2:23pm
United Kingdom
A map showing the sighting location
Ian Bing
Saturday 23 Sep 2023 - 2:18pm
United Kingdom
Connect with nature,
Find your flock
Download Birda - QR Code
© 2023 All rights reserved