Select map overlays Admin Regions Bird Conservation Regions Blocks Coordinates Ecoprovinces Cities and Roads
Common Tern, Ron Ridout
Photo © Ron Ridout

Photo: Ron Ridout
Breeding evidence - Common Tern
Breeding evidence

Click for a larger version or to add map overlays

Common Tern
Sterna hirundo

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Elevation range:
695 - 695 m
Conserv. status:
Not at risk
Global importance
of B.C. population:
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
0 0 2 0
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Canada1970 - 2012 -0.54 (-4.59 - 4.6)Low

Mean abundance by region

Bird Conservation Regions [plot]
NW Interior ForestBoreal Taiga PlainsGreat BasinNorthern RockiesN. Pacific Rainforest
Ecoprovinces [plot]
N. Boreal Mountains Taiga Plains Boreal Plains Georgia Depression Sub-Boreal Interior
S. Interior Mountains Central Interior Southern Interior S. Alaska Mountains Coast & Mountains

Mean abundance by habitat [plot]

Boreal Altai Fescue AlpineBoreal White and Black SpruceBunchgrassCoastal Douglas-fir
Coastal Mountain-heather AlpineCoastal Western HemlockEngelmann Spruce -- Subalpine FirInterior Cedar -- Hemlock
Interior Douglas-firInterior Mountain-heather AlpineMontane SpruceMountain Hemlock
Ponderosa PineSpruce -- Willow -- BirchSub-Boreal Pine -- SpruceSub-Boreal Spruce

Characteristics and Range This long-distance migrant has a cosmopolitan global distribution, being found on every continent except Antarctica. In North America, the Common Tern breeds across much of the boreal, prairie and Great Lakes regions, and along the Atlantic Coast, reaching the western limit of its range just east of British Columbia (Nisbet 2002). That range generally appears to be stable, but the population has fluctuated. At the turn of the 20th Century, Common Tern feathers were highly sought after in fashion, driving a precipitous decline in eastern populations. Protection under the Migratory Bird Conservation Act led to a population rebound, but now some Atlantic Coast breeding populations are failing to produce any young because of dietary switches brought on by changes in available high-quality food (Gaston et al. 2009).

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat The species is a regular passage migrant through parts of the province, but there are no breeding records from British Columbia (Campbell et al. 1990). All records reported to the Atlas are considered to relate to migrants. However, the species recently bred within 100 km of the province, along the Hay River in Alberta (Federation of Alberta Naturalists 2007), suggesting that the Common Tern could breed in the adjacent, remote and poorly surveyed far northeastern part of British Columbia. It nests on freshwater and marine islands.

Conservation and Recommendations Bird distribution and abundance in northeastern part of the Taiga Plains in British Columbia remains rather poorly known. Surveys and birding visit to wetlands in this region would enhance current knowledge of many species, including several listed as at-risk in British Columbia.

Peter J.A. Davidson

Recommended citation: Davidson, P.J.A. 2015. Common Tern in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. [14 Jun 2024]

Birds Canada Privacy Policy | Accessibility Policy
British Columbia Breeding Bird Atlas, Birds Canada, 5421 Robertson Road Delta, BC V4K 3N2 Canada
Phone: 1-877-592-8527 E-mail:
Banner photo: Glenn Bartley