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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones


Pelagic Terns

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Pelagic Terns

Bridled Tern
Sterna anaethetus

Sooty Tern
Sterna fuscata


Bridled Terns often sit on floating debris at sea..Steve Mirick

Coastal Terns
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 to drink.

Pelagic Terns
There are two terns that breed on Carribean Islands or further south and follow the Gulf Stream.  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

Other Names
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.

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.

Bridled Terns  Bruce Larson

Two Bridled Terns photographed by Bruce Larson on the July 2007 BBC Shelf Edge Trip. A third tern was also seen first sitting on floating debris.

Bridled Tern Jeremiah Trimble

Jeremiah Trimble took these two photographs of the Bridled Tern seen on the August 2004 BBC Shelf Edge trip. Again the bird was first seen sitting on a floating log and then flying right..

Bridled Tern Jeremiah Trimble

Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata

The Sooty Tern breeds on the Dry Tortugas an island in the ABA area that is easily birded in April. It also breeds in the Hawaiian Islands, Midway Atoll, west coast of Mexico, Galapagos Islands, west coast of Africa.

Most do not breed until the sixth to eight year having the longest period to maturity of any of the Laridae (Harrison 1983). Carribean juveniles remain off the west coast of Africa for several years until returning to breed.

Does not plunge dive. Catches prey by swooping low over the water. Rarely returns to land except for breeding. Often circles high over the water and rarely sits on the water. Not as likely to be sitting on floating debris as the Bridled Tern.

How To See
Sooty Terns have not been seen on recent New England pelagic trips. Look for them on the offshore continental shelf edge trips. You could be the first to see one. Otherwise take a wonderful trip to the Dry Tortugas in April.

Sooty Tern Midway Atoll EB Tarry

Sooty Tern photographed on Midway Atoll by Emmalee Tarry.

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Seabirds  |   Top of Page

Olsen, Klaus Mailing & Larson, Hans (1995) Terns of Europe and North America Princeton University Press

Sibley, David (2000) The Sibley Guide to Birds Alfred A. Knopf, New York