Forster’s Tern

Range Map
Sterna forsteri

We see Forster’s Terns in southern California year-round, including the breeding season. Their breeding range extends throughout many locations in the intermountain western USA and the southern prairies of Canada. These birds are nearly exclusive to the North American continent all year.

In San Diego County, we find them nesting along the shoreline of South San Diego Bay, but most Forster’s Terns migrate north to the northern Great Basin region or to the northern prairies and the upper Mississippi valley, where they seek open water marshes to nest and raise their babies. Some birds remain on territory year-round in coastal areas of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts of the USA.

Forster’s Tern populations, like other species dependent on prairie marsh lands, have suffered from habitat loss and degradations from agricultural development, and the draining of wetlands, though their numbers haven’t dropped as dramatically as other species.

I’ve enjoyed meeting these graceful birds in many locations throughout the Western USA, from California to the Great Basin at Malheur NWR (Oregon), in Utah at the Great Salt Lake, in southern Nevada, and on the Texas Gulf Coast from Galveston to Boca Chica Beach and the mouth of the Rio Grande.

Scientists studying Forster’s Terns regard them as monotypic (i.e. no subspecies).


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