Caspian Tern

Hydroprogne caspia
Caspian Tern specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A large (19-23 inches) tern, the Caspian Tern in summer is most easily identified by its gray-tipped wings, black cap, and large orange bill. In winter, the black in this species’ cap is replaced by mottled gray. Male and female Caspian Terns are similar to one another in all seasons. The Caspian Tern inhabits every continent except Antarctica. In North America, this species breeds locally in central Canada, the Great Lakes, along the Gulf coast of the United States, and along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the U.S. and Canada. In winter, Caspian Terns may be found in southern California, along the coast of the southeastern U.S., and further south into Mexico and Central America. In the Old World, this species breeds in Eurasia from Eastern Europe east to China, along the coasts of Africa and South Asia, and in Australasia, wintering widely in the tropics. Caspian Terns breed in a variety of habitats, including marshes, estuaries, barrier islands, bays, and lakes, and may be found either in freshwater or in saltwater. In winter, this species utilizes similar habitat types as in summer. Caspian Terns primarily eat fish and small crustaceans. Caspian Terns may be most easily seen standing or walking along the shore or on the beach, where their large size and bright orange bill are most apparent. With the aid of binoculars, it may also be possible to observe this species feeding by diving headfirst into the water. Caspian Terns are most active during the day.

DC Information

Casual in migration. Occuring from April to June and August to October; more frequent in autumn than in spring.Found along ocean bays and estuaries and adjacent beaches. The top of the head is solid black in adult birds in the spring, streaked with white in autumn. Immature birds have brownish spots or mottlings on the grayish back.

Specimen Information

The bird on the left is a male in breeding plumage.
Date: 10/4/1896
Collected By: Capt Walter Fisher
Locality:  Four Mile Run, VA
Sex: Male
Catalog ID: 153317
The bird on the right is a juvenile; this may be the record for this specimen.
Date: 10/4/1896
Collected By: Capt Walter Fisher
Locality:  Four Mile Run, VA
Sex: Female
Catalog ID: 153318

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC64537 Hydroprogne caspia (Caspian Tern)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC52364 Hydroprogne caspia (Caspian Tern)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC46561 Hydroprogne caspia (Caspian Tern)