forster's tern vs common tern

Graceful and tern-like in many of its actions, this striking little gull displays flashing white outer primaries that contrast with a gray back. However, Forster's is more of a marsh bird at most seasons, especially in summer, when it often nests on top of muskrat houses. 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). Least Tern. Here is an outline that we hope will help. 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. Adult Common Tern, breeding plumage. May 4, 2012 #3 1-3 is a Caspian Tern. Then watch the parents when they leave to see if you could identify them in flight. 4-5 is a Forsters Tern… Common Tern has a full black cap with light gray underparts that can be hard to discern in flight, especially at poor angles or in shadow. They can be separated by their white underparts, the absence of a dark wedge bordering the gray primaries in flight, their longer legs if perched, and, with close looks or photographs, their tail pattern (see I). EXPECTED DATES: Common Tern does not usually appear in Missouri until May, although there are a few late April records. (2) The longer tail streamers of adult Forster’s usually project beyond the wingtips; those of Common do not. First of all, both of these terns are LARGE compared to the medium-sized Forster’s and Common Terns, and enormous compared to the tiny Black or Least Terns. Elegant Tern-the most common 2. How about when they are in flight? Secondarily, note the slightly thinner, redder bill with a bit less black at the tip.Courtesy Peter Prokosch, through GRIDArendal, at www.grida.no/resources/2838. 4. Forster's Tern Diving For Fish and Insects - Duration: 5:03. S. stonechat1 New member. Most common terns for the majority of the year have a dark wedge or spike running from the tips of the outer … Gull-billed Tern 5. The common tern is medium gray above, with a black cap and nape, and paler below. adult Forster's Tern. Sandwich, Royal, Forster’s, and Least Terns are probably the easiest to spot and are present year-round. Royal Tern 6. Forster's Terns have a slightly heavier bill that in the breeding season is orange rather than Common Tern's red bill. So what do the field guides tell us to look for on these terns? The closely related Arctic Tern has a significantly older record holder: one banded in Maine in July 1936 was recaptured, alive, in Maine in June 1970, making it a minimum of 34 years old. 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. In the tern family there are two types of noddies; the Brown Noddy and the Black Noddy. 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. Finally, the tail can extend considerably further than the folded wingtips of Forster’s Terns, but this is most easily seen early in the year. During the mid-to-late summer, the presence of these juvenile birds greatly helps to identify the adults. Drat. Look at the terns in the photos below and decide purely on the wingtips and you should come to the correct conclusion. This is usually difficult to see but is fun to look for. Like many birders, I struggled with these terns for a long, long time. … 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. Note the relative lack of any black at the tip of the upper wings. Note the black patch on the hindneck, not surrounding the eye, and the presence of the diagnostic carpal bar on the wing. Well, this year I decided to do something about it and worked at trying develop confidence in identifying these species correctly. Here is an immature Common Tern in late July for comparison. This is shown only in specialty guides like Terns of Europe and North America, by Olsen and Larsson. It is easy to misidentify, especially in spring and because of plumage variability in the similar Forster’s Tern (Sterna forsteri), … Due to frequent misidentifications, eBird has now set the filter for Common Tern at zero in spring, statewide; this means that all eBird submissions will need photos and/or clear written details in order to be validated. Those wingtips will wear away and become shorter as the season progresses and then becomes an unreliable indicator. Can you identify it with confidence? Forster's … This distinction should be kept in mind. 1 and 2). Fig. Common Tern in fall. The restriction of the dark patch to the eye and the lack of a carpal patch both point to Forster’s. With their long pointed wings and long tail feathers, terns fly over water as swallows fly over land. In breeding plumage, it has a light gray mantle with silvery-white primaries. V. ADDED COMPLICATIONS: The most troublesome problem is that sub-adult Forster’s look different from adults and can be more like Common. © … Unlike Common Tern, Forster's regularly winters along our southern coasts. The population of Forster's Tern is about 120,000 individual birds. The upperwings are more often well-lit, thereby allowing for more reliable views. But note the leg length; the Common Tern has shorter legs than the Forster’s, just like the field guides say. The black eyepatch indicates that its a Forster’s. The Forster's Tern has a current evaluation of Least Concern. Where Common … 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. Unlike the industrious smaller terns, several Caspian terns were lazing on the breakwater. There is also a smaller patch of black on the outermost upper wing tips. Closeup photo shows white outer webs and dark inner webs of outer tail feathers (streamers); thus it is Forster’s without doubt. But the oldest Forster's Tern … (1) The gray underparts of a Common (vs. white in Forster’s) may be easier to discern. Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) is not common in Missouri. 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. So that’s what I focus on with resting birds. Tricky because shadowing of underparts suggests a light gray body color; in full sun, it would be all white. 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. There are a few other identification points that can be helpful, but their use is more limited than the ones discussed above. There is also a fairly extensive black wedge at the wing tips. Jennifer M. Arnold, Stephen A. Oswald, Ian C. T. Nisbet, Peter Pyle, and Michael A. Patten Version: 1.0 — Published March 4, 2020 IV. Give it a try. ... A Common Tern fishing - Duration: 1:11. This can vary between individuals, but can be fun to follow. Forster's Tern looks so much like a Common Tern that it was largely overlooked by Audubon and other pioneer birders. (Courtesy of Karen Davis), Fig. Tail streamers are longer than wings in this bird, also indicating Forster’s, but that is not always the case with second-summers. Luckily for Gulf Coast birders, Galveston Island is a fine place to observe several species of terns—but not all species are easy to find. I. 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. Ugh. In breeding plumage, the Common Tern has a light gray mantle and belly, a white tail, a white face, and a black cap. Common Terns have reddish-orange bills while Forster’s Terns have a straight-up orange color. 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. 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. Fig. The species lives up to its name as a "common" tern mainly in the northeast; over much of the continent, it is outnumbered by the similar Forster's Tern. The outer tail feathers of Common Tern are partially black whereas in Forster’s they are all white. 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. If not, then read on. 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. 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 lighter orange bill compared to the previous photo of the Common Tern confirms the conclusion. The Common Tern has a black eye patch that continues across the nape. Later in the season this patch becomes much more visible as the overlying feather tips wear away. Today I will share some of my thoughts on distinguishing these two species in the hope that my experience might help some of you. Adult Forster’s Tern, breeding plumage. Good luck using these identification points. 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. They have white underparts, while second-summer Common is more like the adult and is getting gray. (Courtesy of Douglas Hommert), Fig. We're back in Southern Arizona enduring the heat and wildfires. 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? Forster’s Terns have a medium gray back which contrasts with … II. The wings appear very light, silvery gray in flight. 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. In this bird the wingtips are gray, pointing towards Forster’s. ), try to determine if the gray is uniform or two-toned. A final identification point that can be helpful. 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