Common Name

Scientific Name

Photo by Ray Kirkland
Photo Courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

The common tern, Sterna hirundo, breeds in the northern parts of the Northern Hemisphere and winters from southern areas in the Northern Hemisphere south to the Southern Hemisphere. It is a rare migrant through Utah, seemingly more common in autumn than in spring. The habitat of this species is lakes, bays, and sea coasts. Although fish compose 90% of the diet of the common tern, it also consumes some aquatic invertebrates, including crustaceans and insects.

This species is a colonial nester. The nest is on the ground or on rafts of floating vegetation or on muskrat lodges. The two or three eggs, rarely four, are incubated by both parents, but mainly by the female, for twenty to twenty-three days. Young are semi-precocial - they may leave the nest after three days and soon are able to swim. They are tended by both parents and begin to fly about four weeks after hatching.


  • Baicich, P. J., and C. J. O. Harrison. 1997. A guide to the nests, eggs, and nestlings of North American birds. 2nd ed. Academic, San Diego. 347 pp.

  • Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birderís handbook[:] a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon & Schuster, New York. xxx + 785 pp.

  • Behle, W. H., E. D. Sorensen, and C. M. White. 1985. Utah birds: a revised checklist. Utah Museum of Natural History, University of Utah, Salt Lake City. vi + 108 pp.