Fun Tern Facts For Kids

Sonali Rawat
May 09, 2023 By Sonali Rawat
Originally Published on Aug 05, 2021
Edited by Katherine Cook
Get to know interesting tern facts and information about their habitat, migration habits and diet.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 5.8 Min

Terns are sea birds with about 40 species, found all over the world and in coastal areas. They are very common but some species have become endangered or are vulnerable to becoming extinct.

Terns are known to make the longest migration of all birds which includes the infamous Arctic terns. These birds tend to stop near water to rest during their long migration.

The breeding season may vary according to the bird but it occurs annually. Terns breed on the ground of islands and will lay one to three eggs per season.

The different species of terns will have a difference in appearance but most birds will have a white, gray, or dark plumage with a black cap on the top of the head. They have a pointed bill and very narrow wings that allow them to fly flawlessly for long distances.

The least tern is the smallest, while the Caspian tern is known to be the largest.

These birds prey on crustaceans, small fish, and other animals just below the water's surface. If you liked reading about terns, check out our articles on the other species of terns like black tern and least tern.

Tern Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a tern?

The tern is a type of seabird commonly found near waters including rivers, ponds, and wetlands.

What class of animal does a tern belong to?

The tern belongs to the class of birds from the Laridae family and subfamily of Sterninae. The scientific name of some of the different species of terns includes Sterna paradisaea (Arctic tern), Sterna hirundo (common tern), and Sternula antillarum (least tern).

How many terns are there in the world?

Most species of terns are listed as Least Concern. This means the population of this seabird is fairly stable. The main threat to these birds is climate change, global warming, and loss of habitat.

Where does a tern live?

Terns usually live near water bodies all around the world. They are seen breeding on all continents, including Antarctica. The northernmost terns are Arctic terns and the southernmost terns are known as Antarctic terns. Most terns are migratory and are seen throughout the temperate zones. Common terns are spotted in Canada, Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, and South America.

What is a tern's habitat?

Most terns are usually sea birds and are found in rivers, ponds, seas, and wetlands. During breeding seasons, these birds will be found near sandy shores or rocky areas. Marsh terns and Forster's terns are known to nest in inland marshes. Their main preference is a habitat that is safe against predators and has a steady food supply nearby.

Who do Terns live with?

Terns usually flock in groups or live in colonies. They are known to be very social creatures and are mostly seen with other birds of the same species. Terns are also known to migrate in flocks.

How long does a tern live?

The lifespan of tern birds may vary according to the species but it falls in the range of 10 to 20 years.  Arctic terns (Sterna paradisaea) have been observed to live for 34 years.

How do they reproduce?

Terns are known to be monogamous birds and the breeding season will be at the same time every year. The breeding season may vary according to species and most terns return to the same breeding grounds annually.

Terns breed in colonies on the ground of islands. They may become sexually mature at two to four years of age and breed in colonies of up to 100 pairs. Terns lay about one to three eggs and have an incubation period of 21 to 28 days.

The chicks can become fledglings in four weeks. There have also been instances of hybrids such as common terns with roseate and black tern birds with white-winged.

What is their conservation status?

Most species of terns are classified as Least Concern. The Chinese crested tern is Critically Endangered with only 50 birds in existence. Three other birds of the Laridae order have a population of below 10,000 and are listed as Endangered. The main threat to this bird species is egg collection, loss of habitat, human disturbance, and climate change.

Tern Fun Facts

What do terns look like?

Terns have a varied appearance and these birds range in colors like light gray or white with a black cap on top of the head. The wings are narrow, allowing the bird to stay in the air for a long without touching the ground.

The body of terns is usually, small, and slender and they have a long, pointed bill.

Birds like common terns have a red bill with a dark cap and gray wings. The Arctic tern is light gray while the Inca tern is known to have darker wings and plumage.

The face of an Inca Tern.

How cute are they?

Terns are very cute and a variety of these species can easily be spotted near water bodies, feeding on fish and, crustaceans. Common terns are the most widespread species but you may spot others in your vicinity too.

How do they communicate?

Terns communicate using vocal sounds and chirps. They can also use visual or tactile cues with different body language signs.

How big is a tern?

The average size of terns ranges from 9.1-22 in (23-56 cm).

How fast can a tern fly?

Terns can fly at 22-25 mph (35-40 kph).

How much does a tern weigh?

The average weight of terns is 1.1-25 oz (30-700 g).

What are the male and female names of the species?

There are no specific names for the different genders.

What would you call a baby tern?

A baby tern is known as a chick when it is young and a fledgling when it grows.

What do they eat?

Terns nest near fresh water and hunt small fish and crustaceans as food. They are known to eat shrimps, small squids, marine worms, fish eggs, insects, and 'food fish' like whiting, herrings, or haddock.

Terns will dive and pick off fish just below the water's surface. Common predators include long-tailed weasels, minks, striped skunks, red foxes, raccoons, and blue jays.

Are they dangerous?

Terns are not dangerous animals and tend to avoid humans. On the other hand, human activities like the destruction of habitat, exploitation, and climate change can affect the bird population.

Would they make a good pet?

Terns are migratory and will not make a good pet. They belong to the wild.

Did you know...

Like most sea birds, terns have nasal glands that allow them to excrete excess salt after drinking seawater.

What are the different types of tern birds?

There are about 40 species of terns found all around the world. Some species of terns are the common tern, Arctic tern, white tern, sooty tern, fairy tern, Caspian tern, Forster's tern, roseate tern, gull-billed tern, royal tern, bridled tern, Aleutian tern, least tern, and black tern.

What is the difference between a tern and a gull?

Within the order, terns may have a lineage with gulls but they are not similar. A gull is generally larger than terns and does not have a straight but hooked beak. Terns have short, webbed feet while gulls have long feet without webbing. Terns dive into the water to catch fish, while the gull does not.

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

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our Arctic tern coloring pages.

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Written by Sonali Rawat

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature, Masters of Art specializing in English and Communication Skills

Sonali Rawat picture

Sonali RawatBachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature, Masters of Art specializing in English and Communication Skills

Sonali has a Bachelor's degree in English literature from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University and is currently pursuing a Master's in English and Communication from Christ University. With considerable experience in writing about lifestyle topics, including travel and health, she has a passion for Japanese culture, especially fashion, and anime, and has written on the subject before. Sonali has event managed a creative-writing festival and coordinated a student magazine at her university. Her favorite authors are Toni Morrison and Anita Desai.

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