Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)


French: Guifette noire German: Trauerseeschwalbe Spanish: Fumarel común

Sterna nigra


, 1758,

near Uppsala, Sweden


Race surinamensis has been treated as a separate species on account of “plumage, moult, structural and other differences”#R, but these distinctions rather minor: much blacker (black vs blackish-grey) head and underparts in breeding adult (2); slightly shorter wings and longer legs#R, but with much overlap (ns); and greyer flanks and rump in juvenile (1), this last character perhaps simply correlated with colour of breeding adult. Further research, however, appropriate. Two subspecies recognized.

What do (1) and (2) mean? Learn more about the scoring system.
Subspecies and Distribution
  • C. n. niger (Linnaeus, 1758) – Eurasian Black Tern – S Scandinavia S to S Spain, and E through E Europe and W Asia to L Balkhash and Altai; winters in Africa.
  • C. n. surinamensis (J. F. Gmelin, 1789) – American Black Tern – Great Slave L, S Mackenzie and C Manitoba S to California, and E to Great Lakes, NW Pennsylvania and NW New York, with disjunct populations in Kansas, Indiana, Maine and New Brunswick; winters in Central America and N South America.
  • Descriptive notes

    23–28 cm; 60–86 g; wingspan 57–65 cm. Distinctive small dark tern. Nominate Old World race has head, neck and breast black, becoming more dark slaty grey on... read more


    Relatively quiet compared to Sterna terns but vocal at breeding colonies. Has a range of... read more


    Breeds on well-vegetated inland pools, lakes, peat bogs and marshes, rice fields (Italy), and... read more

    Food and feeding

    Aquatic insects (particularly Coleoptera), small fish, snails, tadpoles and frogs. In breeding season mainly insects, including chironomids... read more


    Season May–Jun in Europe and North America. Some assortative mating, larger males mating with larger females. Most colonies contain... read more


    Palearctic birds  migrate in huge numbers through Mediterranean, and also across N Africa (... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). The Old World population has been estimated at 500,000 to 1,000,000 individuals, most of them nesting in western Russia, Belarus,... read more

    Recommended citation

    Gochfeld, M., Burger, J. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2020). Black Tern (Chlidonias niger). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 26 February 2020).