Caspian Tern

(Hydroprogne caspia)

Conservation Status
Caspian Tern
Photo by Lynn Rubey
  IUCN Red List

LC - Least Concern


N4N5B, N5N - Apparently Secure to Secure Breeding, Secure Nonbreeding

SNRM - Unranked Migrant


not listed


This is a large tern, the world“s largest. The bill is thick and reddish-orange with a small black tip. The outer primary feathers, seen from below in flight, are very dark. The legs are black.




19 to 23in length

48 to 54wingspan




Similar Species


Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) is much smaller. The legs are red.

Forster’s Tern (Sterna forsteri) is much smaller. The legs are orange.


Breeding: Islands in lakes and rivers

Migration: Wetlands, shores of large lakes and rivers




Late April to mid-June and mid-July to mid-October








Small fish, tadpoles, and aquatic invertebrates




Uncommon migrant




The Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union All Seasons Species Occurrence Map

  Class Aves (birds)  


Charadriiformes (shorebirds and allies)  


Laridae (gulls, terns, and skimmers)  


Sterninae (terns and noddies)  



Caspian Tern was formerly placed in the Genus Sterna. Based on mitochondrial DNA analysis in 2004 it was placed alone in its own genus. There are no subspecies.




Sterna caspia











Visitor Photos

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Lynn Rubey


A breeding Caspian Tern in flight near the West Pool area of The Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge.

    Caspian Tern   Caspian Tern  






Caspian Tern
Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren
  Caspian Tern  
Caspian Tern
JMC Nature Photos
  Caspian Tern  
Caspian Tern
Joshua Mayer
  Caspian Tern  

Hydroprogne caspia




Visitor Videos

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Other Videos
  Caspian Terns Up Close & Personal
Elkhorn Slough Foundation

Uploaded on Feb 22, 2009

Bruce Lyons, a University of Santa Cruz professor, gives an intimate look into Caspian Tern life at the Elkhorn Slough.

Visit for more information on how you can protect wildlife at the the Elkhorn Slough.

Filmed, narrated, and copyrighted by Bruce Lyons, 2004.
Used with permission by The Elkhorn Slough Foundation.
Edited by Ken Collins

  Caspian Tern

Published on Jun 5, 2015

Juvenile Caspian Terns follow their parents after leaving the nesting colony. Listen to the begging call given by this juvenile.

ML Video #447038; video recorded by David O. Brown.

For more bird videos and sounds, explore the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

For additional identification and life history information visit:

  Caspian Tern,Sterna caspia, preening
Rob Curtis

Published on Apr 23, 2014

Caspian Tern, Sterna caspia preening.
Hydroprogne caspia

  Birds USA... Caspian Terns

Published on Sep 12, 2013

Birding trip with Roman and Vicky...
Hydroprogne caspia
Salamonie lake, Indiana, USA 23-08-2013

  Caspian Tern Colony
Phil Armishaw

Published on Jul 19, 2015

One of the Caspian Tern Colonies in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

The Terns share the island with hundreds of Double--Crested Cormorants and lots of Gulls. The adult Terns are bringing fish back to the colony and than the search begins for their young. It is not an easy task and you will see lots of youngsters trying to mooch food, but the adults will only feed their own. In the last scene a Tern finally finds it's juvenile and feeds it. Another adult fails when a Gull steals the fish.




Visitor Sightings

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  Chris H

Location: Bass Lake in Grey Eagle, MN

I was out fishing this morning and two of these spent a considerable amount of time flying relatively low above the water. They were circling and swooping down to skim the water trying to catch breakfast. My grandparents have lived on this lake since 1993 and have never seen them before.

  Tom & Therese Griffith

Location: Gleason Lake, Hennepin County, Minnesota

We’re pretty sure this is what we saw - thought it was the local osprey at first, due to the relatively large size but got a better look through binoculars and noted the black head, orangish bill, and darker wingtips. It hovered and crashed the water from 20-30 ft. fishing for supper. Very exciting for 2 birdnerds!

  Lynn Rubey

Location: Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge

A breeding Caspian Tern in flight near the West Pool area of The Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge.

Caspian Tern  






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