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Gull-billed Tern

Silhouette TernsTerns
Gull-billed TernGelochelidon nilotica
  • ORDER: Charadriiformes
  • FAMILY: Laridae

Basic Description

Gull-billed Terns are graceful fliers that swoop above saltmarshes and beaches. They're pale silvery gray and white, with a shallowly forked tail, heavy bill, and (in summer) a neat black cap. The heavy bill is a key to its diet, which is broader than a typical tern's and does not center on fish. They forage in the air for insects, seize crabs and lizards from the ground, pluck fish from the water surface (without diving into the water), steal food from other birds, and even prey on chicks of other species.

More ID Info
image of range map for Gull-billed Tern
Range map provided by Birds of the World
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Find This Bird

Look for Gull-billed Terns over saltmarshes and sandy beaches along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Watch for a medium-sized tern that doesn't fly like most terns: their flight is less direct and more swooping as they catch insects or pick prey from the water/ground. You won't see them plunging into the water like other terns. They also tend to occur in small numbers (not flocks) and don't associate closely with other tern species.

Other Names

  • Pagaza Piconegra (Spanish)
  • Sterne hansel (French)
  • Cool Facts