Skip to main content

The Species at Risk Database

 Home  »     »   Black Tern

  Back to the Species at Risk main page.

Black Tern

Chilidonias niger

COSEWIC Status: Not at risk

COSSARO Status: Special Concern

Black Tern with chicks. Photo credit: Dana Cofell


  • Small, 25 cm, boldly marked tern with black head, chest and belly.
  • Wings slate grey with black wing tips.
  • Tail slate grey with white underneath.
  • Bill is black. Legs dark red
  • Sexes appear similar.

Habits and Reproduction

  • Floating nests in loose colonies in shallow mainly cattail marshes
  • Monogamous and breeds at 2 yrs of age.
  • Typically 2-3 eggs are laid late May to early July.
  • Migrate to north coast of South America and return early May.
  • Eats mainly insects picked off while hovering above the water surface and also other aquatic invertebrates and small fish.


  • Mainly found on the Great Lakes in coastal marshes.
  • Wetland loss, water pollution, and disturbance of nesting areas by boat traffic.


  • Wetland loss, water pollution, and disturbance of nesting areas by boat traffic.

Conservation Actions

  • Please operate watercraft with care. Slowing down to a “no wake” speed is important near wetlands.
  • This bird is protected under the Migratory Bird Act.
  • Consider participating in the Great Lakes Marsh Monitoring Program

Range Map

Thanks to the official sponsors of the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (Bird Studies Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, Federation of Ontario Naturalists, Ontario Field Ornithologists, and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources) for supplying Atlas data, and to the thousands of volunteer participants who gathered data for the project.

Support Your Biosphere

With your support, we can expand our impact in the Georgian Bay region through conservation and education.

We are a registered Canadian charity #87100 1335 RR0001