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Bird of the Week: Common Tern

The Common Tern is the most widespread tern in North America and is commonly seen along the shores of oceans and large inland lakes such as the Great Lakes, on barrier islands, in coastal marshes and on beaches. Each year, this long-distance migrant travels between its South American wintering grounds to its breeding grounds in Canada, the coastal Great Lakes region, and the Atlantic coast. This bird can be identified year-round by its deeply forked tail, grey belly, and slender wings with dark wingtips. During the spring and summer breeding season, the adult has a full black cap on the top of its head, bright red bill with a black tip and red legs. In winter, the black cap feathers lighten and the legs and bill darken. The Common Tern nests on sandy beaches and small islands in colonies of hundreds to thousands of terns, which are often very loud and easy to find! The tern makes a small scape in the sandy or rocky ground, adds dead vegetation, stones or shells to the depression, and lays its eggs on top. It eats small fish, squid and crustaceans which it grabs from the surface of the water while flying or dives under the surface to catch. The tern also drinks on the fly by skimming water from the water’s surface. Like many seabirds, the tern can drink freshwater and saltwater because it has a nasal gland that excretes the excess salt from seawater! Look for the Common Tern and other tern species along the shores of Michigan’s large lakes during your next visit to Lake Erie or Lake St. Clair Metroparks. Happy birding!

Click here to hear the sounds of the Common Tern.

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