• Welcome to BirdForum, the internet's largest birding community with thousands of members from all over the world. The forums are dedicated to wild birds, birding, binoculars and equipment and all that goes with it.

    Please register for an account to take part in the discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.
ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

Black Tern - BirdForum Opus

C. n. niger, adult summer
Photo © by Mirage
Netherlands, June 2007
Chlidonias niger


C. n. niger, Winter plumage
Photo © by mikemik
Zbilje, Slovenia, August 2018

23–28 cm (9-11 in)

  • Breeding (April - July): Black head, breast and belly. Uniform grey back, wings and rump/tail. White undertail. Bill black. Dark legs.
  • Non-breeding: Underparts white, grey above. Falcon-like black hood. Characteristic black (or dark brown) line above shoulder, extending onto outer edges of breast. Legs orange/red. Bill black. Tail off-white with grey rump and upper tail coverts (white in White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus).
  • Juvenile: Like non-breeding adult but with darker back feathers and coverts with distinct buff/lighter edges.


C. n. niger, juvenile - white flanks.
Photo © by Mihai Cristian Mihai
Vadu, Romania, August 2014

The two subspecies are very similar in breeding plumage; the most useful distinction is that the underwing of C. n. niger is dusky grey, while the underwing of C. n. surinamensis is white.

In winter and juvenile plumages, both have a white underwing, but the head and flank patters differ more obviously; C. n. niger has a sharply defined black crown, a narrow black 'peg' on the side of the neck, and white flanks, while C. n. surinamensis has a diffusely defined grey rear crown, a broad, diffuse grey-brown 'peg' on the side of the neck, and dusky grey flanks (see photos, right, for comparison).

Similar species

See White-winged Tern for differences.


C. n. surinamensis, juvenile - grey flanks.
Photo © by targetman
Covenham Reservoir, Lincolnshire, UK, September 2011

Breeds in wetlands in central and eastern Europe, western Asia, and central North America. Winters mainly at sea, also on larger lakes and rivers, on the west coast of Africa and both coasts of Central America and northern South America.



There are two subspecies[1]:

  • C. n. niger (Eurasian):
Breeds central and eastern Europe and western Asia; winters in Africa. Vagrant northwest to Iceland.
  • C. n. surinamensis (North American):
Breeds North America; winters Central America and northern South America. A rare vagrant to western Europe.

A few authors have suggested they might be better treated as separate species, but none of the major authorities have taken this up at the moment.


C. n. surinamensis, juvenile
Photo © by Dmitry Mozzheri
Long Island, New York

Freshwater lakes, gravel pits and reservoirs, marshes, wet grassland; in winter on sea coasts and estuaries, and occasionally large lakes.



The diet includes insects, invertebrates and small fish.


The nest is usually floating vegetation in shallow water (possibly on the ground close to water). The clutch consists of 2-4 eggs which are incubated for 21-22 days. The young fledge after 19-25 days.



  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Avibase
  3. Wikipedia

Recommended Citation

External Links

GSearch checked for 2020 platform.1