Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri)


French: Sterne de Forster German: Forsterseeschwalbe Spanish: Charrán de Forster

Sterna Forsteri


, 1834,

Saskatchewan River, Canada


Genetic data#R support suggestion that present species and S. trudeaui are sister-species; the two may be part of a monophyletic S. hirundo group#R (which see). W and inland populations sometimes separated as a geographical race, litoricola, but differences from other populations considered insufficient. Monotypic.


SE British Columbia S to Californian coast and E to S Ontario, Great Lakes, and New Jersey to North Carolina; Gulf coast from Alabama to NE Mexico (Tamaulipas). Winters from California and S New Jersey to S Mexico and Gulf of Honduras, rarely to Panama.

Descriptive notes

33–36 cm; 127–193 g; wingspan 73–82. Forehead to nape black; upperparts pale grey, underparts white; bill usually distinctly orange-red, not vermilion, and... read more


Diverse calls include a hard, clipped, dry "kik" or "krik", a slightly grating, shrill "krrih" or "... read more


Wetlands. Breeds mainly at freshwater lakes, potholes, inland and coastal marshes and salt-pond... read more

Food and feeding

Mainly small fish (5–7 cm), also aquatic insects and crustaceans. On Californian coast, mainly shiner perch (Cymatogaster... read more


April–May on Gulf Coast, to late May elsewhere. Forms loose colonies of 5–250 pairs, rarely more; sometimes solitary. Fairly... read more


Following northward post-breeding dispersal, migrates south. Birds breeding on the Pacific coast... read more

Status and conservation

Not globally threatened (Least Concern). The global population is not known with any precision partly because in some regions, notably the prairies, accurate monitoring is... read more

Recommended citation

Gochfeld, M., Burger, J. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2019). Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri). 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 11 December 2019).