Plate 30: Least Tern

Sternula antillarum

Nests & Eggs: Least Tern

Smallest of the tern family found in coastal waters or along inland rivers. The black tern is more commonly seen in North America.

Black Tern

This tern is distinctive, especially in summer plumage when the black head and body, short, slightly notched tail, slate-gray wings, combined with the erratic flight, tells us it has to be a Black Tern. In winter plumage these birds have white heads and bodies with backs and wings darker than other terns. They show dark spots around the eyes and back of neck. In fall migration you find birds of this species in various stages of dress, but there are usually a few which carry enough black to give a clue to their identity.

They nest in inland marshes and around lakes, forming loose colonies on favorite nesting sites. Floating vegetation, muskrat houses, in fact most any structure strong enough to support a nest is used.

Black Terns feed on larger insects such as moths, grasshoppers, dragonflies and water insects which they obtain from the air or by gliding down and picking them from the water. They can be seen flying over the fields like swallows or nighthawks, feeding as they go. When flying over lakes, they often hover then glide to the surface for minnows or insects.

These terns spend the winter in South America and migrate earlier than some species. They also arrive later from their winter homes.

Introduction to Our Bird Friends, Volume 1 by Carson

  • Print out the notebooking pages provided below.
  • Read a story about the least tern, “A Tern For The Best,” out loud.
  • Have a younger student orally narrate what was read. He can then copy a few lines of his narration onto the notebooking pages.
  • Older students can read the text, Plate XXX: Least Tern, and provide a written narration.
  • Sketch the bird. This encourages attention to detail, which will aid in identifying the bird later on. Another option is to use the printables provided below.
  • Sketch the nest of the bird, along with the eggs. Note where the nest is usually found.
  • Older students can include the taxonomy.
  • Learn more about the Least Tern at Cornell.
  • On one notebooking page note the facts:
    • Description.
    • Habitat.
    • Range.
    • Food.
    • Nest.
    • Eggs.
    • Call.

Additional Resources

30 Narration Ideas
At some point you might appreciate some variety.

The Bird Study sections of our free nature study series: Our Wonderful World:

Free Nature Studies: Our Wonderful World
Printables & Notebooking Pages

Least Tern Notebooking Pages
Free simple notebooking set.

Bird picture for notebook.

Least Tern Range Map
For notebook from Cornell.

Bird Facts Notebooking Page
One option in a more graphic organizer style that is especially nice for noting the facts and range.

Enjoy the entire series:
Nest & Eggs ~ Intro & Free eBook
Free Bird Studies: Nests & Eggs ~ Complete Series

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