Newfoundland Travel - Birdwatching: Common Tern

Updated: Jan 27

Throughout Newfoundland, common terns are spotted both in fresh and salt water sources. While I have seen them in both locations, by far the most common sightings have been on the rocky ledge beside Kenny's Pond in St. John's. As a lover of nature, I often take a stroll along the trail surrounding the pond to observe ducks, gulls and common tern that frequent the area. #nature #birding #birdwatching #commontern #kennyspond

Common tern standing on a rocky bank of a fresh water pond facing the camera
Common tern standing on a rocky bank of a fresh water pond.

Common tern are beautiful water birds that, although sharing the distinctive gray and white color of most gull species, bear little other similarity. They are graceful birds with long, narrow, wings, orange feet and beak, a forked tail, and a beautiful black marking on its head.

This common tern appears pensive as it stands on the edge of a water bank looking to the right.
This common tern appears pensive as it stands on the edge of a water bank looking to the right.

The black tip on the tern's bill distinguishes it from the similar-looking Arctic tern.

A rock pigeon and common tern, side by side, have their wings extended over their heads while positioned near a water bank.
The rock pigeon (left) and common tern (right) are of comparative size.

It is of a similar physical size as the the rock pigeon (shown on the left).

Common tern, wings outstretched, is hovering over a fresh water pond seeking fish..
Common tern hovering over a fresh water pond seeking food.

Their meal preference is small fish and, when seeking food, will flitter and hover over water to check availability. When prey is spotted, they will, without warning, plunge into the water and try to capture the meal. If they are unsuccessful, they continue the ritual until they get the fish.

Common tern, a small fish in its mouth, is flying back to shore where it will eat its meal.
Common tern, a small fish in its mouth, is flying back to shore where it will eat its meal.

Once they catch their meal, they often return to the shore to eat it ...

Common tern, perched on a wooden wharf, has a fish's tail sticking out of its mouth as it completing its meal of fresh fish.
Common tern eating its fish on the shores of a fresh water pond.

Common tern preening itself on the rocky shore of a fresh water pond.
Common tern preening itself on the rocky shore of a fresh water pond.

... do a little preening,

Having completed preening, this common tern is standing on a rocky shoreline with a white feather stuck on its beak.
Having completed preening, this common tern is standing on a rocky shoreline with a white feather stuck on its beak.

Common tern standing on a rocky bank, its head extended upward and resting on its back as enjoys a good stretch.
The common tern is quite flexible and can give a good stretch.

enjoy a little stretch,

This common tern, standing on a rock on the shore, is arching its body, tail up, wings down, as it gives a good stretch.
This common tern is arching its body, tail up, wings down, as it gives a good stretch.

This common tern is balancing on one foot on a rocky shore as it scratches its head with the other foot.
This common tern is balancing on one foot on a rocky shore as it scratches its head with the other foot.

and to tend to that deep rooted itch!

One common tern takes flight as another two stand side by side on large rocks at the edge of a pond.
One common tern takes flight as another two stand side by side on large rocks at the edge of a pond.

Then it's back again to get a meal to win the heart of the "little missus"!

A male common tern, wings spread, bends down to feed its partner some freshly caught fish as a second tern sits idle by her side.
A male common tern feeding its partner some freshly caught fish.

The male brings food to the female as part of their mating ritual. It appears that this is what is occurring here, rather than a parent feeding a young tern, as the fledglings have not yet developed the full black cap but have a partial black cap and a white forehead. Once partnered, the common tern mates for life (but has been known to have extra-copulation affairs)!

Male common tern, wings spread, head bent, positions himself atop a female as she arches her body and extends her head to receive his attention.
Common tern mating on the rocks of a shoreline.

Courtship begins in the air and continues on the ground. As seen here, the female positions herself under the male and arches her head upward. Concurrently, the male descends upon her, holding his wings outstretched and his head bent toward her.

Common tern, wings open, prepares to take flight from the wooden wharf at a pond's shoreline.
Common tern, wings open, prepares to take flight from the wooden wharf at a pond's shoreline.

Females will have 1-4 eggs and can have two broods per year. Eggs are olive colored with dark brown spots. The incubation period is about 25 days. At hatching, the birds are covered in feathery down. Their eyes are open and, although able to fly, they stay in the next. The nesting period concludes on the 31st day after hatching.

Common tern, wings extended, is leaving the shore and ascending over Kenny's pond in St. John's, Newfoundland.
Common tern leaving the shore and ascending over Kenny's pond in St. John's, Newfoundland.

I hope you enjoyed my blog and that it inspires you to explore birding for yourself. I'm sure you will agree that bird watching is an enjoyable experience and that Newfoundland is a great place to capture amazing bird photography opportunities. Please follow my Newfoundland Travel Blog to see my work on some other popular tourist attractions in eastern Newfoundland. I'd be delighted to hear from you so why not contact me today?


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