Common Names: Common tern
Sub-category: Gulls, Terns, Skimmers
This medium-sized tern is 32 to 39 cm long (including a 6 to 9 cm fork in the tail) with a 72 to 83 cm wingspan. Breeding adults have light gray upperparts, white to very light gray underparts, a black cap, orange-red legs, and a thin, sharp, orange-red bill. The Common Tern's upperwings show a dark primary wedge, unlike the Arctic Tern in which the upperwing surface is uniformly grey. Its long tail extends no further than the folded wingtips on the standing bird, unlike Arctic and Roseate Terns in which the tail protrudes past the wingtips. The Common Tern is not as pale as the Roseate Tern and has longer wings. It is also smaller than the South American Tern. In winter, the forehead and underparts are white, the bill is all black or black with a red base, and the legs are dark red or black. Juvenile Common Terns show extensive ginger coloration and lack the 'scaly' appearance of juvenile Roseate Terns.
In North America, this species breeds along the Atlantic coast from Labrador to South Carolina, and inland throughout most of Canada east of the Rockies. In the United States, some breeding populations can also be found in the states bordering the Great Lakes, and on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. These birds winter along the coasts of Central and South America, all the way down to Argentina on the east coast and to Northern Chile on the west coast.