Most terns in our area are seen along the coast and may be recorded on
pelagic trips either as the boat leaves the coast or returns. Common
Terns are sometimes seen on Stellwagon Bank in large flocks. Arctic
Terns famous for their long distance migration from the ; Arctic to
Antarctica are also seen along the coast in migration and breeding on
Machias Seal Island. Terns with the gulls belong to the family
Laridae. They do not drink sea water and most return to land frequently
There are two terns that breed on Carribean Islands or further south and
follow the Gulf Stream. They may show up on offshore trips to the
continental shelf edge especially after strong hurricane winds.
Bridled Tern regularly shows up on offshore trips to the
continental shelf edge especially after strong hurricane winds and thus
earns a spot on this page. Sooty Terns have
not been recorded on New England pelagic trips, but they may show up
some day and so they are also mentioned here.
Bridled Tern Sterna anaethetus
Also known as the Brown-winged Tern.
Breeds in colonies on islands. In the Pacific: the Hawaiian Islands,
Mexico, the Galapagos, Chile. In the Atlantic in the Bahamas, West
Indies, and off the African coast. Also in the Indian Ocean. Does not
breed on the Dry Tortugas. It is usually seen on boat trips to and from
Circumequatorial. distribution. . Adults disperse in the breeding areas.
Juveniles follow the gulf stream where a few are pushed as far north as
Nova Scotia usually by hurricane winds which is why they show up on New
England pelagic trips.
How To See
In our area take an offshore pelagic to the continental shelf edge south
of Cape Cod. Bridled Terns were recorded and photographed on the August
2004 BBC shelf edge pelagic and on the 2007 July trip.
Behavior at Sea
The Bridled Tern likes to perch on floating debris as you can see in the
following photographs. They can also sit on the water. Sooty Terns are
reported not to sit on floating debris. Neither tern is able to plunge
dive for food.