Common Tern

Sterna hirundo
Range Map

Common Terns nest in the far north of the USA and into central and southeastern Canada. They spend winters along the coasts of South America. Most of the USA only sees these birds as they migrate between the northern and southern hemispheres. In August 2003, while I was chasing birds requested for the San Diego County Bird Atlas, I had my first (and so far, only) meeting with these birds as they were on their way back to South America.

Today, scientists recognise three subspecies of Common Tern:

  • S. h. hirundo breeds in North America to northern South America, islands in the Atlantic, Europe, Africa, through the Middle East. They spend winters south of the Tropic of Cancer, below their respective breeding range.
  • S. h. tibetana breeds from central Asia to northern Mongolia through Tibet. They spend winters near the Indian Ocean.
  • S. h. longipennis breeds in northeastern Siberia south to China and Mongolia. They spend winters along the eastern Indian Ocean, southeast Asia, and Australia.

These birds suffered from the regrettable practices of a less-than-enlightened period of the late 1800s when the fashion industry harvested these birds for their feathers and sometimes the entire carcass to adorn women’s fashions. Fortunately, their population has mostly recovered, though not to the historic levels seen prior to the holocaust.

Back in 2003, I’d recently shifted from film to my first dSLR. I took on an assignment to collect images for the soon to be published San Diego County Bird Atlas. The Common Tern was one of the birds missing from the collection donated for the book. I got the images in August 2003 and the book was published in October 2004. To date, they are the only images of these birds I’ve captured. Someday, I hope to change this status.

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