How about when they are in flight? Status in Tennessee: Forster's Tern is fairly common during spring and fall migration, and rare at other times of the year. The wings appear very light, silvery gray in flight. These pictures seem to show long tail, greyish breast and darker primaries. Your email address will not be published. In spring, it usually arrives by late April and departs by mid-May. With practice, you will find that you often can distinguish these two species at a surprising distance by focusing on the upper wing surface. I usually go by call notes which are very different, but the common shows more gray on the back that blends well with a gray belly… they usually will show some black in their primaires vs the Forster’s which are white.. … Now after observing several hundreds of these birds this summer, often in locations where both species are found intermixed, I feel like I’ve finally broken through. Is that body gray or does it just look gray because it is shaded from the sun? Don’t expect it to be entirely  clear, especially when starting out. The common call of the Forster's tern is a descending kerr. Hovers above water before diving for prey. Can you identify it with confidence? Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. yet lacked the longer and more orange legs of a Forster's Tern. A succession of kerrs is used by the female as a begging call during courtship. Subscribe Now For Access. Today I will share some of my thoughts on distinguishing these two species in the hope that my experience might help some of you. The red really popped when I looked at these birds. But which is it? In this bird the wingtips are gray, pointing towards Forster’s. Arctic Tern has very narrow dark tips to the outer primaries, much thinner and cleaner than Common or Forster’s. To put further icing on the cake, when both species are present together, the comparisons are easier and allow us to introduce one more feature: leg length. Forster’s Terns molt a little earlier in the season than Common Tern, so birds that are losing their black cap in July are likely to be Forster’s, whereas those retaining their full black caps in late August are more likely to be Common. By clicking any of the links in the table below, a map will be pulled up on your screen. The Common Tern is most similar to the Roseate, Arctic, and Forster's Terns. It feeds further out to sea than the common tern. When they are side-by-side like this, things get easier; the bird on the left has a deep orange bill and black wingtips (= Common Tern), and the one on the right has a lighter orange bill and gray wingtips (= Forster’s Tern). The threat call used in defensive attack is a low harsh zaar. Required fields are marked *. In breeding plumage, it has a light gray mantle with silvery-white primaries. Well, Forster’s Tern is supposed to have a light orange bill, whiter body and wings, a tail that extends beyond the folded wingtips, and longer legs, while Common Tern sports a deeper orange bill, gray body and darker wings, a tail extending the same length as the wingtips, and with black on its outermost tail feathers. Common Tern shows broad dark tips to the outer primaries which contrast with a very pale inner primary triangle. There is also a fairly extensive black wedge at the wing tips. Wisconsin DNR and other groups have developed innovative ways to assist these species, and particular progress has been made with Forster’s terns. The Forster’s Tern frequents all types of wetlands where it breeds, such as freshwater lakes, inland and coastal marshes and salt-pond dykes. The outer primaries are somewhat grayer than on Forster’s, typically bordered by a dark streak or wedge that cuts across the wing at about mid-primaries; this wedge, however, may be hard to see in spring. I was ready to wave the white flag and surrender. For me the folded wingtips are actually more reliable, with the Common Tern having black wingtips and the Forster’s Tern having grayish wingtips. Well, Forster’s Tern is supposed to have a light orange bill, whiter body and wings, a tail that extends beyond the folded wingtips, and longer legs, while Common Tern sports a deeper orange bill, gray body and darker wings, a tail extending the same length as the wingtips, and with black on its outermost tail feathers. Give it a try. The dark ‘carpal patch’ is somewhat visible underneath some feathers. Pictures 2 and 3 are the same bird, and 4 and 5 are the same bird. Breeding Forster's usually have a white breast, unlike Common Tern's gray breast. Where Common breeds on outer beaches and barrier islands, Forster’s nests farther inland, on edges of freshwater marshes and saltmarshes. Leg length is hard to judge when they are not closely juxtaposed like this, but can be another supporting feature to look for in mixed flocks. ), try to determine if the gray is uniform or two-toned. Note the black patch on the hindneck, not surrounding the eye, and the presence of the diagnostic carpal bar on the wing. (Actually, although I say that I worked at it, that’s not completely true, since this minor quest became an utter pleasure and was the furthest thing from work.) Common and Arctic terns have dark outer edges of the tail and white inner edges; just the opposite of the Forster's. © Steve Tucker | Macaulay Library California, May 06, 2017 OK, to start us off, let’s admit that distinguishing Common and Forster’s Terns is one of the more challenging bird pair identifications. But look at the wingtips…they are jet black, unmistakably characteristic of Common Tern. My guesses are as follows: 1 - Common Tern 2/3 - Common Tern 4/5 - Forster's Tern In this, the fifth in our series of identification videos, we look at how to tell Common and Arctic Tern apart. In breeding season, it’s black tipped, like the common tern’s, but the colorful base is much more orange and less red than is the common’s. So instead of trying to determine if the wings are light gray or dark grey (are they kidding? Numerous Forster’s terns mingle in native vegetation in a wetland. Start with the folded wingtips. Of course, it helps that in these photos the birds are in nearly perfect lighting and in the textbook profile pose, but we have to start somewhere. It is rarely found on sand, mud or rocky islets, the most suitable breeding habitat being dense mats of floating and emergent vegetation. It is more likely to be found in Tennessee than the similar appearing Common Tern. Several of the terns are very similar in appearance. These terns take at least two years to mature, resulting in fully mature birds mixing with first-year birds, they have complex molt patterns, and the brightness of the plumage can change during the year depending on feather wear. Forster's Terns are generally the most common of the black-capped, gray-backed, white bodied terns found in the state. Adult Common Tern (Hyères, France, 8 June 2013). Note that the upper wing is uniformly gray both before and after the ‘elbow’. Compared to the Common Tern, the streamer-tailed Forster’s Tern nests more inland and farther south, and winters farther north. The upperwings are more often well-lit, thereby allowing for more reliable views. The restriction of the dark patch to the eye and the lack of a carpal patch both point to Forster’s. Common Terns (Left & Rright) with Sandwich Terns (Middle) - 7 Aug 2015 - Back Bay NWR, Virginia Beach, VA. Common Terns with Royal Terns - 7 Aug 2015 - Back Bay NWR, Virginia Beach, VA. Sightings in Virginia Beach. During the mid-to-late summer, the presence of these juvenile birds greatly helps to identify the adults. The brown or ginger portions of the wing and body plumage wear away by late summer, leaving the mostly silvery late fall plumage shown above. The Arctic Tern has a shorter bill and is completely blood-red in colour. OK, you’re out birding and you see the excellent individual shown above. So what do the field guides tell us to look for on these terns? As you mentioned, I have seen them at larger reservoirs, especially in the south. Forster’s Terns have a dark patch that is limited to the area immediately surrounding the eye, making them look like they just lost a boxing match, while Common Terns have a black patch that extends from the rear of the eye to the hind neck. I used to look at the undersides of the bird…the body and wings, whereas now I focus on the upper surface of the wings. The Forster's Tern is similar looking to the Common Tern, but found in slightly different habitat. These medium-sized white terns are often confused with the similar Common Tern, but Forster’s Terns have a longer tail and, in nonbreeding plumage, a distinctive black eye patch. Both species will have juvenile plumage that has additional touches of brown or ginger when they are extremely young in early summer, but the diagnostic black facial patches are present throughout their first year. Tail is pale gray, deeply forked with dark inner edge, white outer edge. Photo by Daryl Christensen . Forster's Tern looks so much like a Common Tern that it was largely overlooked by Audubon and other pioneer birders. Part of the reason is purely the additional experience, and partly its because now I’ve found identification points that work for me. For far too many birders, this is a tough call. In this, the sixth in our series of identification videos, we look at how to tell Common and Arctic Tern apart, focusing on the ID features on perched birds and how to separate them in flight. When identifying terns, it is safest to rely upon a combination of field marks. This can vary between individuals, but can be fun to follow. The lighter orange bill compared to the previous photo of the Common Tern confirms the conclusion. The Forster's Tern has a broad, blurry trailing edge to the primaries where it is thin and crisp in the Arctic and very restricted in the Roseate. Conveniently, in juveniles and in non-breeding plumage, Common Terns also contain a black ‘carpal bar’ on their wings that Forster’s Terns lack. I know Forster's have longer tails, whiter breasts and whiter primaries. In North America, the Forster's tern in breeding plumage is obviously larger than the common, with relatively short wings, a heavy head and thick bill, and long, strong legs; in all non-breeding plumages, its white head … At very close range, you may be able to see that the tail is white … At times this can also be surprisingly easy. Another field mark of the Common Tern are the wings. It favours shallow water, between 30 cm and 1 metre depth. Later in the season this patch becomes much more visible as the overlying feather tips wear away. Note the relative lack of any black at the tip of the upper wings. I haven't seen enough terns to appreciate the differences between Forster's and Common tern. Common Terns have reddish-orange bills while Forster’s Terns have a straight-up orange color. Well, this year I decided to do something about it and worked at trying develop confidence in identifying these species correctly. Decide which species you think these are, note the leg length on these birds, and read on. Finally, a note of caution: As with the gulls, the terns are variable and plumages change with age and season. Common Tern in fall. A final identification point that can be helpful. Your email address will not be published. Common Terns have long orange-red bills with a dark tip and it can appear long, and slightly de-curved. Many hours were spent scouring images on Google, studying Sibley, etc. Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution* In the early 1900s, Roberts described the Forster’s Tern as a common summer resident on prairie sloughs and marshes across the state’s western grasslands.Confirmed nesting records were available only from Heron Lake in Jackson County and from King Lake in Meeker County, but his account also noted breeding colonies in Kittson and Renville … Tern identification: Common and Forster’s Terns, Yellow-rumped Warblers and yellow-rumped warblers. ), or they were difficult to see (the edging on the tail feathers is seldom apparent even in good lighting, and only in flight). Look at the terns in the photos below and decide purely on the wingtips and you should come to the correct conclusion. The distal half of the wings beyond the ‘elbow’ are typically whiter than the proximal half, but its not so obvious in this slightly overexposed view. For FAR too long, I felt like I was just guessing when I saw a medium-sized tern, hoping that the habitat would push the odds in my favor (Forster’s Terns prefer marshes, while Common Terns prefer beaches). Many birders will be able to recognize this bird as one of the medium-sized terns, which here in the eastern US narrows down to Forster’s or Common Tern. Please read the Group Rules before joining. This flying bird shows the typical features of Common Tern – a long-looking head, long red bill with a prominent dark tip and relatively short tail streamers. Here is an immature Common Tern in late July for comparison. I know there are also common terns here right now and they look a lot like Forster's. Then look at the leg length. Those wingtips will wear away and become shorter as the season progresses and then becomes an unreliable indicator. It is the only medium-sized tern species found in the United States mainland in winter. Note the partial black "hood" extending all the way around the back of its neck, and bold carpal bar. This is what I've come to expect elsewhere in North America, where Forster's Tern is more of a marsh bird and Common Tern is more of a large water body bird. Common Terns are usually found out on the larger bodies of water like Lk St. Clair or the Great Lakes… Forster’s Terns are usually found inland in marshy areas… They can be difficult to ID in flight.. Classic view of a Common Tern in flight. That was frustrating to me because bird identification should be based on observation of specific features and shouldn’t feel like a coin toss. I usually go by call notes which are very different, but the common shows more gray on the back that blends well with a gray belly… they usually will show some black in their primaires vs the Forster’s which are white.. there bill is very red vs the orange bill of the Forsters… Here is a composite photo of the two species I took today… Top on is the Common and the bottom photo is a Forster’s. This is usually difficult to see but is fun to look for. Wings are pale gray with paler primaries. Its long, light tail is deeply forked, and its undersides are all white. Ugh. For me the bill color is somewhat debatable, but the wingtips aren’t, and using the combination of both leads to a much more reliable conclusion. Yes, its a tern, but which one? Far too often my decision changed depending on the lighting conditions; a bird would look like it had a gray body in flight, having me lean toward Common, and then it banked toward the sun and miraculously it was transformed into a white-bodied Forster’s. Obviously, this isn't a solid rule, but certainly is a good place to start. The Forster’s tern’s bill is proportionately long and large, though still within a range that would be termed medium, and black most of the year. The upper wings of Forster’s Terns, on the other hand, are two-toned or three-toned, with the distal half of the wing (furthest from the body) being distinctly whiter than the half that is closest to the body, which is gray. Then watch the parents when they leave to see if you could identify them in flight. Note the different pattern in the face compared with the immature Forster’s Tern. Unlike Common Tern, Forster's regularly winters along our southern coasts. I often see wrong Ebird reports of Common Terns in places they should not be… example… small inland marshes… Common Terns are usually found out on the larger bodies of water like Lk St. Clair or the Great Lakes… Forster’s Terns are usually found inland  in marshy areas…  They can be difficult to ID in flight.. The outer tail feathers of Common Tern are partially black whereas in Forster’s they are all white. Does one of the birds have longer legs than the other? apparently the Common Tern Sterna hirundo, commonly called Sterne, but also of the "Hirundo marirui or sca-swallowe, a bird much larger than a Swallow Hirundo rustica, neat, white and fork-tailed. Forster's Terns have a slightly heavier bill that in the breeding season is orange rather than Common Tern's red bill. Forster’s also shows dark tips to the outer primaries but slightly paler gray with little or no translucence. The confusion with gulls continued for many years; indeed, it still does. If you find yourself by a large tern flock, watch for begging youngsters, which should be readily identifiable based on the black eye or neck patches, and see if you can identify the parents when they arrive to feed the young. This bird was among 100 Common Terns but Dave tells us that this one was obviously much thicker-billed, paler-billed (and longer-billed?) Although all of those points are indeed true, for me they were either difficult to distinguish in the field (Is that bill light orange or deep orange? Like many birders, I struggled with these terns for a long, long time. Which means I am lost. The ginger color on its body and wings is on the edge of its feathers. Photo kindly provided by Karmela Moneta. Forster’s Tern in fall. Compare the photos of soaring birds below. When the birds are resting on a beach or mudflat, I now focus on two features: the color of the folded wingtips and the bill color. The undersurface of the primaries is a useful feature for separating the Forster's Tern from Arctic and Roseate terns. Good luck using these identification points. Although differing from the common tern in several details and in its habits, the Forster's tern so closely resembles it in general appearance that it is not to be wondered at that the species remained so long unrecognized, and that, even after its discovery,' its distribution and habits were so little understood. For me, looking at the lower wing surface or body was frustrating because it was so dependent upon lighting, and with the sun being above, these areas alternated between sun and shade during flight, turning identification into a guessing game. But note the leg length; the Common Tern has shorter legs than the Forster’s, just like the field guides say. Forster’s Terns are sometimes referred to as “Marsh Tern” because they utilize this particular habitat type for breeding and foraging. There is also a smaller patch of black on the outermost upper wing tips. It has a black cap, commonly found in terns. Also, Unlike Common or Forster’s, Arctic shows primaries appearing translucent … This is a public group administered by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, located in Sapsucker Woods, Ithaca, New York. One of the interesting things about Common and Forster’s Terns is that (unlike many other species) they are actually easier to identify when they are juveniles or are in non-breeding plumage. All four tern species regularly found in Wisconsin, Forster’s tern, black tern, common tern, and Caspian tern are listed as state endangered. The same thing happened when trying to decide how orange the bill was; a well-lit bill could look light orange (perfect for a textbook Forster’s), and then when the head turned and the bill became shaded, it was suddenly the deep orange bill of a Common Tern. Drat. The black eyepatch indicates that its a Forster’s. Forster's Tern: Medium tern, pale gray upperparts, black cap, white underparts. Orange legs, feet. Common Terns have upper wing surfaces that are almost uniformly gray, with a fairly large wedge of black that encompasses at least the five outermost primary wing tips. Poronto's Birding Macomb Township and Beyond. Common Tern has red legs in breeding plumage, but these darken to near black in non-breeding plumage. And then we can start working on shorebirds! Can anyone tell me what I have here. So that’s what I focus on with resting birds. Those ginger tips will eventually wear off, leaving the silvery pattern that we saw above.