Least Tern

photo by NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Sternula antillarium
L 9″ (23 cm) W 20″ (51 cm).

Song or calls:
Sharp “kit, kit,” and repetitive “dee-dee.” 

Description: Sexes similar. Breeding adults show distinctive white forehead against black cap and nape; gray above and white below; orange-yellow bill with dark tip; orange-yellow legs. Conspicous black wedge on outer primaries is visible in flight. Short deeply forked tail. Non-breeding birds lack black cap, instead having a dark eye stripe. Juvenile birds are mottled gray-brown above and white below.

least tern
Habitat: Migrants can be found on lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Nesting is done mainly on river sand bars or islands, but sometimes also on barren shorelines, gravel beaches, or newly cleared land.

Where in Nebraska: Uncommon spring and fall migrant in eastern part of the state. Highly local summer resident in Platte and Niobrara River valleys. Local breeder.

Status: The Interior Least Tern population is considered endangered.

Fun Facts: When a predator/intruder enters the colony, the adults will mob and then defecate (poop) on the intruder.

Least Tern - NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Least Tern - photo by Phil Swanson
(click image for larger view)