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What is a Black Tern?

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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 21 February 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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The black tern, scientific name Chlidonias niger, is a small bird with black and silvery gray feathers. It is native to North America and Europe and it lives mainly in wetland habitats. The black tern is a social bird that tends to live in flocks of varying sizes. It is carnivorous and usually feeds in groups. The breeding season is in late spring to summer; young hatchlings are able to live independently after a few months.

As a relatively small bird, a mature black tern is usually about 9.1 to 10.2 inches (23 to 26 cm) long, with a wingspan measuring about 22.4 to 23.6 inches (57 to 60 cm) across. Each one usually weighs approximately 1.8 to 2.1 ounces (50 to 60 g). It has compact body with a very long black beak, and its legs range in color from very dark red to black.

The adult black tern is seen in two different color palettes. During the late spring and summer breeding season, the colors are striking and distinctive. The head, chest, and body are deep black, with silvery gray wings, back and tail. In the winter the coloring fades considerably, to a white face, chest and underparts, with a gray back and wings.

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The black tern is native to North America and Europe. It tends to breed in northern regions and migrate south in the winter months. It lives in wetland habitats, primarily near shallow bodies of water, lakes, ponds, coastal areas, and marshes. During breeding season, it prefers areas with plenty of available cover from plant life.

As a bird with a very social nature, the black tern tends to live in flocks ranging in size from a few birds to thousands. They often forage for food, nest, and migrate in these groups. They are carnivorous in nature with a diet that includes insects, small crustaceans, and small fish. During breeding season, they eat more insects and rely primarily on small fish during the winter. They forage for food by flying down rapidly and snatching food from the surface of the water and also catch insects in mid-air during flight.

The typical breeding period for the black tern is in the late spring or summer. The male performs a courtship ritual, flying around carrying a dragonfly or small fish to attract a female. When a female follows the male, he feeds it to her. The nest is usually built over or near water in thick vegetation for cover, and the female lays two to four eggs which are incubated by both parents for about 22 days. The babies often leave the nest just a few days after hatching to swim and can fly after about three weeks. They will be fed by their parents for several more weeks until they can live independently.

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