Fun Forster's Tern Facts For Kids | Kidadl


Fun Forster's Tern Facts For Kids

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Have you ever seen a bird that's smaller than gulls, with a thinner and pointed bill having whitish wings? In short, we are asking you about Forster's tern, a marsh bird that regularly winters along the Southern American coasts.

Belonging to the family of Laridae, this bird is known to guard its nest and young ones fiercely. Not only does it guard its family, but it also never fails to feed its young ones by hawking for insects and plunge-diving for fish.

This small tern has a wingspan of about 25 in (63.5 cm) and is almost the same size as the common tern. Its young species resemble the parent species just within days of being born. They are known to have the winter looks of the adult Forster's terns.

Sounds interesting? Then keep scrolling down to discover more on the Forster's terns life with us.

If you like this article, check out other bird articles including Arctic tern facts and western kingbird facts!

Fun Forster's Tern Facts For Kids

What do they prey on?

Fish, Crustaceans, Insects, Larvae

What do they eat?


Average litter size?

1-4 eggs

How much do they weigh?

4.6 - 6.7 oz (130 - 190 g)

How long are they?

12.9- 14.2 in (33 - 36 cm)

How tall are they?


What do they look like?

Gray, White

Skin Type


What were their main threats?

Gulls, Raptors, Snapping Turtles, Marsh Rice Rats

What is their conservation status?

Least Concern

Where you'll find them?

Marshes, Estuaries, Islands


North America









Forster's Tern Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a Forster's tern?

Forster's terns are medium-sized gray back birds.

What class of animal does a Forster's tern belong to?

These birds of North America belong to the class Aves that predominantly consists of birds.

How many Forster's terns are there in the world?

The global Forster's terns breeding population is expected to be around 100,000.

Where does a Forster's tern live?

Forster's terns live in marshy areas around freshwater bodies. Worldwide this bird is found in North America in states like California and New York.

What is a Forster's tern's habitat?

Forster's terns are mainly marsh-dwelling species that could be spotted in freshwater sites like lakes or brackish saltwater marshes. However, it is often found over shallow open water marshes. Their major habitats also include estuaries, salt marshes, islands, and marshy areas surrounding lakes and streams.

Who do Forster's terns live with?

The Forster's terns prefer living in a group that builds a shallow nest using marsh vegetation. These North American birds have a breeding colony that varies from a few couples to a thousand individuals. These colonial nesting species often compete with gulls for their nesting sites or share their nesting sites with the yellow-headed blackbird.

How long does a Forster's tern live?

The pale gray Forster's terns maximum lifespan is known to be around 16 years.

How do they reproduce?

Forster's terns breeding season comes in April and May, and these birds breed in colonies. These North American birds are monogamous species. Both the males and females look for mates around springtime when they arrive on breeding grounds. The females lay one to four eggs that are spotted and buff-colored. In fact, did you know both the parents take turns incubating the eggs for 20-28 days? Then they don't breed until they are at least two years old. Interestingly in the breeding season, when the adults breed during April it is found that the breeding plumage of the Forster's terns has silvery-white primaries with a light gray mantle in contrast to their non-breeding plumage where their crown is usually white and a black comma-shaped patch covers their eyes

What is their conservation status?

These pale gray, North American birds are classified as of Least Concern according to the IUCN Red List. The Forster's terns presence could be ranked as thirteen out of twenty on the continental concern score.

Forster's Tern Fun Facts

What do Forster's terns look like?

Forster's Tern

With elegantly forked tails and silvery wings, you would often spot the Forster's terns cruising above marshes and lakes in search of fish. It has white underparts and gray upperparts, and its bill is red with a black tip. However, in winters, their forehead becomes white, and a distinct black eye mask remains. Often confused with common tern, the main difference between Forster's terns and common terns is the shorter tail seen on the common tern.

How cute are they?

These tiny birds of North America appear quite light, and with their orange-red bills and silvery gray body, you may classify it as one of the cute flying members of the sky. In fact, the Forster's terns legs are orange in color, and their orange legs are known to be more orange in the shade than the common tern, so with such beautiful color combinations, wouldn't they make for a cute little animal?

How do they communicate?

Forster's terns express their emotions and concerns to each other using various calls and visual displays.

How big is a Forster's tern?

Forster's terns are 13.0-14.2 in (33-36 cm). These black cap species are known to be long-tailed, slender, and long-winged seabirds. They have pointy, long black tip bills. So you could say these birds are smaller than Bonaparte's gulls and larger than black terns.

How fast can a Forster's tern fly?

The Forster's terns are known for their migration and are diurnal species. These birds are graceful fliers that fly at 9.9 mph (16 kph). These North American species of birds forage by hovering and flying over water to take fish from just below the surface to feed its young family of birds. You could also catch them grabbing insects during their flight, pretty cool, huh?

How much does a Forster's tern weigh?

They weigh about 0.35 lb (160 g).

What are the male and female names of the species?

The male or female Forster's terns have no specific name. However, both the male and female are known as Forster's tern and are found near marshes and areas surrounded by marsh in general. In fact, you should look out for pair of these medium-sized terns during April when they come together to breed. As parents, both these adults feed their young ones and they never leave the nest unguarded.

What would you call a baby Forster's tern?

Baby Forster's terns are called chicks. During late summer,  you can even spot these white with black-masked eye tiny bird. These juvenile species look very similar to their parents but tend to have darker feathers.

What do they eat?

Living in marshes in places like California, New York, and along the Atlantic coast from Florida to Massachusetts, the habitat of such species is constantly changing due to their migration. However, as much as their habitat varies, you could probably guess their wide range of diets. This medium-sized bird likes to eat arthropods like lobsters, small fish like green sunfish and rainbow trout, and occasionally frogs too. In fact, you would often find pictures online that show one Forster's tern feeding a small fish directly into the bill of another Forster's tern.

All their diet is fulfilled in the marshes they live in. Moreover, during the breeding season in April, the female species is given special treatment by the male terns as they would dive into the water, hover around and plunge head-first for their prey in water.

Occasionally these terns also hunt from bridges, telephone wires, posts, and perches to catch their prey and bring the food back into its nest.

Are they dangerous?

You might have a preconceived notion about these little species to be silent and adorable but let us warn you, reader, that this bird is extremely aggressive when it comes to protecting its nest. These terns protect their nests with such fierce attitude and aggression that if you were to intrude intentionally or unintentionally, these terns would come diving toward you, peck your head, and at times could even defecate on you. Furthermore, if there were any intruding chicks or birds in their nests, then the terns attack them with a bent posture, heads down, and hold their wings down and out along with aggressively pointing their bill towards them.

Classifying them as dangerous would probably be a little extreme; you could say the terns are fierce protectors of each other, their eggs, and their family.

Would they make a good pet?

If you are looking for a tiny and cute pet that wouldn't take up much space in your house, then Forster's terns are your choice, but as it said before, these terns would go to any extent to protect their family and nests using their wings, bills and even their head. So unless you are all in to bear the aggressive status of this grey-white bird, we would suggest otherwise to keep this bird as your pet.

Did you know...

When the Forster's terns make a nest, they tend to make a small scrape in the ground and add bones, stones, shell fragments, and dead vegetation to the nest scrape.

These terns are distinctively known to hover over water before diving to catch their prey.

What is the difference between a gull and a tern?

Although the two birds, gulls and terns, may look similar in color, the two do have a significant amount of differences to note. The tern has a straight beak while the gull has a hooked beak, the gull has no webbed feet, but the tern does. In addition, the gull has broader wings compared to the tern's straight and pointed ones. Apart from their physical differences, the gulls prefer short flights to terns long-distance migration flights.

Is a tern a shorebird?

Yes, the deeply forked tail bird does seem like a favorite coast bird. However, tern Forster's are not just found in California and along the Atlantic regions, but their nest sites seem to be popular even on the coast. As spring arrives, these common terns start moving their nest sites from the South to the North to breed. All of this takes place during April. From the Sandy Point state reservation to the tip of Plum Island, to the South Beach in Chatham and beaches of Cape Cod, you'll always end up finding a photogenic tern waiting to be captured, so next time you visit any of these places, make sure to capture a stunning photo of these birds!

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other birds from our scrub-jay facts and evening grosbeak facts pages.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable forster's Tern coloring pages.

Written By
Kidadl Team

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