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Caspian Tern

Common Name: Caspian Tern.

Scientific Name: Hydroprogne caspia.

What to look for?  At first, you may think that you have seen a seagull. But it may be a Caspian Tern. One of its most distinctive features is its large bright red-orange bill. It is mostly white with a light gray mantle and white undersides. The Caspian Tern’s legs and eyes are black and it has a shallowly forked tail. And listen for them – they are very vocal and make loud, raucous screams.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Seasonally, Caspian Terns are day visitors here from approximately March to May. Look over any of our ponds during the morning hours. These birds will soar back and forth over our ponds in search of fish. Look for a bird high-diving into our pond!

How big are they? The Caspian Tern is a moderately-sized bird. Their average length is 20 inches. They have a wingspan of approximately over four feet. And they weigh in at 20 to 25 ounces.

What are their flight patterns? Caspian Terns are quite graceful in flight. With their broad wings, they fly with deep powerful wing-beats. As a result, the flight of a Caspian Tern is strong and swift. Their flight style is "Flap-Gliding" where they alternate flapping with a wings-extended glide. They may also appear to momentarily "hover" as they sight fish below. And, of course, they are "divers" as they fish.

How else do they behave? When fishing, Caspian Terns fly with their bill pointing downward. And when they spot a fish, it hovers, flexes its wings and plunge-dives into Carillon Stonegate Pond - usually submerging completely.

What’s for dinner? Fish! Caspian Terns live on a diet of mostly fish. For example, along the shores of Lake Michigan, they may feast on alewife. And on Carillon Stonegate Ponds, they dine very well on the small fish that are stocked here (they do not abide by our “catch & release” policy!). Caspian Terns also eat insects and eggs of other birds.

Where do they take up residence? Caspian Terns can be found across the globe.Their large range includes coastlines and inland lakes across North America, Central America, the northern regions of South America, Africa, northern Europe and the Middle East, through to Asia and Russia. They are found on both fresh and salt water; they favor more protected waters such as bays, lagoons, rivers, lakes and ponds, but not usually the open sea.

Where do they breed and nest? Caspian Terns nest and breed in colonies in areas that are sparsely vegetated and littered with driftwood on islands, beaches, and sandy shores. Illinois' first and only Caspian Tern colony was discovered in 2009 on the roof of the City of Chicago's James W. Jardine Water Filtration Plant located on the shores of Lake Michigan in Downtown Chicago. Caspian Terns fishing at Carillon Stonegate Pond May be from this colony!

Where do they migrate? Caspian Terns move from inland areas to our coasts and southward for the winter.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Caspian Tern has seen stable populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 220 thousand.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Caspian Terns are very vocal. They make a low harsh “kraa” and a shorter “kowk” sound. Here is a link to the sounds of the Caspian Tern.

Interesting Facts About Caspian Terns:

  • Caspian Terns are part of the gull and tern family.

  • The Caspian Tern is the largest tern in the world.

  • Caspian Terns can be found across the globe and are found on all continents except Antarctica.

  • The world's largest breeding colony is on a small, artificial island in the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.

  • Illinois' only breeding colony is on roof of a water filtration plant on Chicago's Lake Michigan shoreline.

  • The Caspian Tern aggressively defends its breeding colony and will pursue potential predatory birds as well as people who invade the colony.

  • The oldest recorded wild Caspian Tern was at least 29 years old.

For more information on Caspian Tern and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds and Audubon Society.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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