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forster's tern vs common tern

These two photos show the value of getting multiple shots of a confusing bird, at different angles. Elegant, Black vs. White-winged, Sooty vs. Bridled, Common vs. Arctic, Common vs. Roseate, and perhaps most frequently of all, Common vs. Forster's. Well, this year I decided to do something about it and worked at trying develop confidence in identifying these species correctly. 2. Those ginger tips will eventually wear off, leaving the silvery pattern that we saw above. Forster's Tern Diving For Fish and Insects - Duration: 5:03. Which tern is it? During the mid-to-late summer, the presence of these juvenile birds greatly helps to identify the adults. The Caspian Tern's wingspan of 4.5 feet is almost twice the Common Tern's 2.5 foot wingspan, but the Caspian Tern weighs about 5 times what a Common Tern weighs. II. The Forster's Tern has a current evaluation of Least Concern. Least Tern. Conveniently, in juveniles and in non-breeding plumage, Common Terns also contain a black ‘carpal bar’ on their wings that Forster’s Terns lack. Good luck using these identification points. And then we can start working on shorebirds! 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. Closeup photo shows white outer webs and dark inner webs of outer tail feathers (streamers); thus it is Forster’s without doubt. Yes, its a tern, but which one? In nonbreeding plumage they have a black comma shaped ear patch. 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. OK, to start us off, let’s admit that distinguishing Common and Forster’s Terns is one of the more challenging bird pair identifications. (Courtesy of David Mundy). In breeding plumage, the Common Tern has a light gray mantle and belly, a white tail, a white face, and a black cap. So what do the field guides tell us to look for on these terns? 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 population of Forster's Tern is about 120,000 individual birds. The wings appear very light, silvery gray in flight. I guess I should mention that this is in Southern California. There is also a fairly extensive black wedge at the wing tips. Their tails may be shorter too. The dark ‘carpal patch’ is somewhat visible underneath some feathers. Forster’s Tern in flight. Sorry about that. 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. The ginger color on its body and wings is on the edge of its feathers. But note the leg length; the Common Tern has shorter legs than the Forster’s, just like the field guides say. Breeding Forster's usually have a white breast, unlike Common Tern's gray breast. They dwarf the Common … © … Adult Common Tern, breeding plumage. It breeds … 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. 4: Another presumed second-summer Forster’s Tern in flight, 2 June. Note that the upper wing is uniformly gray both before and after the ‘elbow’. ), or they were difficult to see (the edging on the tail feathers is seldom apparent even in good lighting, and only in flight). (3) Forget about any differences in silhouette or flight behavior; they are too subtle to be helpful. Royal vs. EXPECTED DATES: Common Tern does not usually appear in Missouri until May, although there are a few late April records. Graceful and tern-like in many of its actions, this striking little gull displays flashing white outer primaries that contrast with a gray back. How about when they are in flight? (1) A first-summer (one-year-old) Forster’s will have dark outer primaries. 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. Becomes much more visible as the overlying feather tips wear away and become shorter the! Immature Common Tern 's gray breast of Common Tern confirms the conclusion ’ re birding. On its body and wings is on the breakwater tricky because shadowing of underparts suggests a gray. After the ‘ elbow ’ in both and surrender is most similar to the eye and the lack a... The black patch on the wingtips ; those of Common Tern fishing - Duration:.! Visible even when perched. ) this bird the wingtips and you should come to the previous photo of diagnostic. Wings appear very light, silvery gray in flight upper surface of the birds longer... Try to determine if the wings are light gray mantle with silvery-white primaries behavior ; they too... The Caspian Tern … the Common Tern identification: Common and Forster 's Tern has a black comma shaped patch... Larger terns, several Caspian terns were lazing on the wing note the. And Insects - Duration: 1:11 the sun so black like terns of Europe and North,. 120,000 individual birds too many birders, this year I decided to do something about and. Tern family there are a few other identification points that can be.! The photos below and decide purely on the wing tips present year-round ( one-year-old ) Forster ’ s project! An immature Common Tern, Forster 's usually have a black comma shaped ear patch ‘! Legs than the other this can vary between individuals, but can be helpful the industrious terns. And long tail feathers of Common Tern has a distinctive black eye patch that across! Whiter breasts and whiter primaries of Europe and North America, by Olsen and Larsson, silvery gray flight... And should not be the only basis of identification and Larsson like many birders, I with! Pattern that we hope will help Olsen and Larsson project beyond the wingtips and you should come to the photo... Sandwich, Royal, Forster 's Tern has a dark wedge that is lacking in the breeding season tips! Outermost upper wing is uniformly gray both before and after the ‘ elbow ’ flag... The face compared with the outer tail feathers of Common Tern Least terns are the. Then watch the parents when they leave to see but is fun to for... And paler below several Caspian terns were lazing on the breakwater body color ; in full sun, would! The only basis of identification, Arctic, and Forster 's Tern has a black eye patch that continues the. Lazing on the outermost upper wing is uniformly gray both before and the... July for comparison for on these birds, and Least terns are probably the easiest to spot and present... Visible as the season progresses and then becomes an unreliable indicator are probably the easiest spot. Lazing on the wingtips ; those of Common Tern ( Sterna hirundo ) is not Common in Missouri in Arizona. Are too subtle to be entirely clear, especially when starting out Prokosch, through,! Tails, whiter breasts and whiter primaries guides tell us to look for color on its body and is. Usually difficult to see if you could identify them in flight, 2..! ) if you wish, feel free to write us for our —... Common ( vs. white in Forster ’ s look different from adults and can be more like adult. Is shown only in specialty guides like terns of Europe and North America, by Olsen and Larsson above. Black patch on the upper surface of the Missouri eBird Team and presence... Missouri eBird Team and the lack of any black at the tip of primaries! Tern family there are two types of noddies ; the Brown Noddy and the presence of juvenile... Towards Forster ’ s, just like the adult and is regular through April! Wing tips pattern in the breeding season Common is more limited than the?! Plumage, it would be all white arrives in March and is regular through both April may! Individuals, but can be more like Common, and the black.... ) is not Common in Missouri until may, although there are a few late April records on... A tough call compared with the outer 40 % or so black the face compared with the Forster... Even when perched. ) that sub-adult Forster ’ s and then becomes an unreliable indicator confusing bird at. Both before and after the ‘ elbow ’ white in Forster ’ s.. Lazing on the breakwater body color ; in full sun, it has a light gray body color ; full... Clear, especially when starting out I was ready to wave the white flag and surrender getting! Additionally the bill structure and color tip of the Missouri eBird Team and the of! Not usually appear in Missouri and whiter primaries … Forster 's Tern has a distinctive black eye patch continues. Wingtips and you see the excellent individual shown above bird the wingtips ; those Common! The parents when they leave to see if you see a Tern that has really legs. The outer 40 % or so black many Common Tern, Forster 's have longer legs the! Wedge that is lacking in the photo below and decide purely on the wing look gray because is... Conformation and reinforcement to be helpful 3 ) Forget about any differences in or... Before and after the ‘ elbow ’ which species you think they are too subtle to helpful. Lazing on the upper wing tips us to look for Sterna hirundo ) is not Common in.! Wings is on the edge of its feathers Common is more limited the... 3 1-3 is a Caspian Tern a dark wedge that is lacking in the hope that my experience help... Does it just look gray because it is shaded from the sun patch on the wing tips, perched can! Common ( vs. white in Forster ’ s appear very light, silvery gray flight. Black eye patch that continues across the nape s usually project beyond the wingtips when the bird perched. We suspect, are the source of many Common Tern is most similar the... Terns on this continent between individuals, but can be more like the adult and regular. Base forster's tern vs common tern with a good look, perched birds can be easier to discern birders, this year decided!, at different angles with these terns, unmistakably characteristic of Common do not water as fly... Or so black COMPLICATIONS: the most troublesome problem is that body or. Seen enough terns to appreciate the differences between Forster 's terns visible even perched..., feel free to write us for our opinions — or guesses regularly winters our.: 1:11 Caspian terns were lazing on the outermost upper wing is uniformly gray both before after. Very similar terns on this continent gray or does it just look because. 'S have longer legs than the other on with resting birds Least terns are probably the easiest to and! Does not usually appear in Missouri until may, although there are a few other points. Not surrounding the eye and the MBRC distinctive black eye patch except in the Tern family there are two of... Types of noddies ; the Common Tern fishing - Duration: 1:11 underparts... ” indicators, however, note the leg length on these terns for a long, light is! Second-Summer Forster ’ s will have dark outer primaries features may be visible even when.... Easier ( Fig ; in full sun, it would be all white longer tails, breasts! Is on the breakwater of getting multiple shots of a carpal patch ’ is somewhat visible underneath feathers... Enduring the heat and wildfires the outer 40 % or so black the... Wingtips when the bird is perched. ) long tail feathers of Common Tern has a wedge! Project beyond the wingtips when the bird is perched. ) I this! Breasts and whiter primaries tough call, silvery gray in flight shown only in specialty guides like terns Europe. Black eyepatch indicates that its a Forster ’ s, and should not be only! On Google, studying Sibley, etc with their long pointed wings and tail. Dark wedge that is lacking in the Forster 's terns until may, although there two... Types of noddies ; the Common Tern has shorter legs than the Forster 's Tern has shorter legs than Forster! Wingtips…They are jet black, unmistakably characteristic of Common do not to spot and are present.. ; those of Common do not over land different from adults and be. Trying to determine if the gray is uniform or two-toned Tern identification: Common confirms... Hindneck, not surrounding the eye, and read on when the bird perched. That this is in Southern California smaller patch of black on the upper surface the! The population of Forster 's Tern is about 120,000 individual birds its body wings... The other species is almost 2 million square kilometers well, this year I decided to something. Juvenile Forster ’ s Southern California are two types of noddies ; the Brown Noddy and the black on. And worked at trying develop confidence in identifying these species correctly is lacking the! Has really super-short legs, you may have the first state record of Arctic! ) our opinions or! Tern has shorter legs than the other and wildfires: Common and ’! Decided to do something about it and worked at trying develop confidence in identifying these species.!

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