Fun Least Tern Facts For Kidst

Moumita Dutta
May 09, 2023 By Moumita Dutta
Originally Published on Aug 05, 2021
Edited by Jacob Fitzbright
Least tern facts are informative.

Are you a bird lover and want to enrich your knowledge about birds?  Why not take a look at these cool and interesting facts about the least tern?

The least tern (Sternula antillarum) is a small bird of the Laridae family that is mostly found in North America as well as in South America. These birds are close relatives of the yellow-billed tern that has a characteristic black tip in its yellow bill.

These birds prefer staying in colonies or groups and thus keeping them as pets would not be a good idea.

The least tern habitat revolves around water bodies and all of its surrounding areas. The least tern nesting areas are usually on sandy beaches.

These birds have an average clutch size of 1 -2  during their breeding time and after mating, the least tern eggs are incubated by both parents.

The least tern range of places for migration during the harsh winter includes places like Central America, South America and the Caribbean. If you want to know more about the breeding, population, conservation status, methods of conservation, threats these birds face while breeding, and other cool facts, do continue reading this article.

If you find this article informative then do also check out the tawny owl and birds of paradise.

Least Tern Interesting Facts

What type of animal is the least tern?

The least tern is a kind of bird.

What class of animal does the least tern belong to?

The least tern bird belongs to the Aves class of the Animalia Kingdom.

How many least terns are there in the world?

As per the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Endangered Species program, there are around 18,000 interior least terns. It has been estimated that there are around 21,500 pairs of least terns in the world.

Where does the least tern live?

The habitat and places of staying and nesting are generally found in estuaries, lakes, lagoons, and near coastlines. Most of the least terns are present in coastal areas of California and inland regions of Florida. Due to habitat loss, they are currently also making nests on gravel roofs.

What is a least tern's habitat?

The least terns prefer a freshwater habitat. They are seen catching their prey from rivers and thus they are natives to the river systems and their surroundings.

Who do least terns live with?

The least terns are generally found in groups hoving over the water surface trying to catch small fish. They are migratory birds that generally stay in groups. However, for nesting, these birds prefer making their nests on sandy beaches.

How long does a least tern live?

Their life span stands at around 15-20 years.

How do they reproduce?

The least tern pairs are mostly monogamous which means they tend to stay with one partner over several nesting periods. Generally, the pairs renew the bonds they have with their partner at the courting grounds which are generally away from their colony sites.

Males protect the nesting sites chosen from display while the females select a favorable location where they wait for the courtship process. During the process, the male tends to bring a fish and gives it as a courtship gift to the female.

The female accepts the gift and consumes the fish. Then they perform courtship displays like lowering or raising their bodies or their bills.

They then enter into the nesting and incubation period. Females are the ones who tend to select the  nesting areas which are mainly sandy beaches, but both the males and females defend their nesting sites

What is their conservation status?

The least terns are currently under the Least Concern status by The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. Due to human disturbances, the population of Least Terns seems to be deteriorating. However, it is not declining at a pace that can put them under the Vulnerable status.

Least Tern Fun Facts

What do least terns look like?

The least tern prefers to nest near water.

The least tern has a yellow bill and a white forehead with a black crown. Their yellow bill and yellow legs help them to be identified during the breeding season. When they are flying, they have pale white wings with black edges on their outer feathers.

Unlike the adults, the fledglings have a dark beak and a black smudge-like patch over their eyes. They still have their yellow legs. Juveniles have a scaly look with the crown being smudged.

How cute are they?

Least terns are small birds with beady but sharp, purposeful eyes. They may look quite cute due to their size.

How do they communicate?

In the least tern, it has been observed that adults are able to distinguish the call of their mate and the call of a stranger. The common vocal sound released by the least tern is ‘Purrit-tit-tit’.

This is their call when an adult approaches their mate. The notes vary as per the individual, the first note and the second note have different purposes.

The first note generally helps to identify the individual while the second note reveals a tendency to make a move towards a prospective mate. Parents are also able to identify their chicks with sounds.

Experiments have been conducted on the tern by altering the appearance and vocal intonation of the chicks. It was seen that after vocal modification the chick was accepted by the parents after 15-20 days but visually altered chicks were not accepted.

Hence, it seems both sound and voice are necessary for the least terns to communicate. Their calls are generally high-pitched and come off as a ‘zreep’ or ‘kit’.

How big is the least tern?

The least tern is around 8.3-9.1 in (21-23 cm). It is the same size as a mockingbird.

How high can a least tern fly?

When they are flying over water, the least tern tends to fly low and hover around the water surface to observe smaller fish and plunge to get them.

How much does a least tern weigh?

The least tern of North America weighs around 1.4–1.8 oz or 39–52 g.

What are their male and female names of the species?

Similar to the majority of birds a male least tern is called a cock, while a female least tern is called a hen.

What would you call a baby least tern?

A chick.

What do they eat?

Small fish comprise the main diet of the least tern. They hover around shallow water and dive in to get small fish.

Tadpoles, flying insects, ants, and shrimps are also part of their diet. The top fish that they generally prey on are mosquito fish, hake, herring, river carpsucker, and plain minnows. Adults can often be found taking the fish back to their nests to feed the young or their mates.

Are they friendly?

Least terns can be quite aggressive when it comes to protecting their nests. These North American birds can scream at any intruders if they feel their nests are threatened. One of their defense mechanisms is diving at the intruder and defecating on the intruder. Their attacking style has earned the title, ‘little striker’.

Would they make a good pet?

The least terns live in colonies and love to stay in groups. They are also migratory birds who like to hunt for their food. Plus, their population is on the decline, and hence, it is not advisable to keep the least terns as a pet.

Did you know...

Least terns are the smallest of the American terns.

Their yellow feet are generally webbed or partially webbed.

Their nests are generally shallow scrapes in gravel or soil. They are made by both males and females who kick their feet and rotate their bodies.

When it is very warm, the parents can dip their bellies in the cool water and then let the water drip on the eggs so that it can cool the chicks.

S. a. antillarum which is an interior species of the least tern has been reported to be an Endangered Species mainly due to their loss of habitat by humans. S. a. browni, aka California least tern is also marked as Endangered Species due to human activities.

How long does a baby least tern stay with its mother?

The incubation period for the eggs of these birds of North America is around 20-25 days. Just after a few days of hatching, the young tend to move out of the nest.

During this phase, the parents keep feeding the young one. They learn to take their first flight at around 19-20 days. However, they can stay with their parents for around 2-3 months.

Where do least terns migrate?

The least tern migrations are very understudied. They have been observed around river corridors, ocean coastlines, and even offshore.

During the winters, least terns can be found near estuaries, river mouths, and coastlines. Even after migration, least terns can return to their nests unless their nesting sites have been interfered with by human interaction. It has been generally observed that they spend their winter in Central America, South America, or the Caribbean.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about other birds including bowerbirds and kookaburras.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our least tern coloring pages.

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Written by Moumita Dutta

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

Moumita Dutta picture

Moumita DuttaBachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

A content writer and editor with a passion for sports, Moumita has honed her skills in producing compelling match reports and stories about sporting heroes. She holds a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Calcutta University, alongside a postgraduate diploma in Sports Management.

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