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Gull-billed Tern Sterna nilotica


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Gull-billed Tern, nonbreeding
credit: J.M. Garg/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Laridae, Gulls and Terns view all from this family

Description ADULT summer Has pale gray upperparts, black crown and nape, and white underparts. In flight, wings appear almost uniformly white except for dark edges to underside of primaries. Bill and legs are black. ADULT winter Similar, but head is white except for gray streak from behind eye to nape. JUVENILE Similar to winter adult, but back, upper wings, and crown have faint brown feathering. Legs and bill are dark reddish.

Dimensions Length: 13-15" (33-38 cm)

Habitat Local breeding species, nesting on beaches on Atlantic and Gulf coasts and present mainly Apr-Aug. Seen regularly during migration on Gulf coast, wintering from there south to coasts of South America.

Observation Tips Fairly easy to see near Atlantic coasts in spring and summer, where it often feeds over salt marshes and coastal fields rather than open water.

Range New England, Florida, Mid-Atlantic, Texas, California, Southeast

Voice Utters a kerr-wick call.

Discussion Robust, pale tern with controlled flight and relatively deep bill. Does not plunge-dive like other terns and habits are more terrestrial, often hawking insects and picking prey from surface of ground. Sexes are similar.