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Black Noddy Anous minutus americanus

Black Noddies next to a Brown Noddy and sooty Tern
Photo: Peter Fullagar, 2005, Lord Howe Island

At a glance

Noddys have the reverse plumage of most tens

Subspecies extremely rare in region, perhaps as few as 10 pairs nest.

Additional populations likely as a few pairs could easily be overlooked when among thousands of pairs of Brown Noddys.

Endemic Caribbean subspecies.



There are only three species of all black terns in our region. The Black Tern is smaller than the two species of noddy terns, and they have white underwings. Non-breeding Black Terns are not entirely black. Of the two noddy terns, the Black Noddy is smaller (14-15 inches; 35-39 cm, total length) than the Brown Noddy (16-18 inches; 40-45 cm total length). As it's name implies this species is darker. It also has a smaller but longer bill. That said, the two Atlantic noddies would be very difficult to identify in flight at sea or even when both species are not available for direct comparison. Note the Brown Noddy in the foreground of the picture above.


Sexes alike. No seasonal variation. Extensive white cap (more so than in Brown Noddy or immature Black Noddy). Live to be 25 years or more. Voice distinct from that of Brown Noddy.


Like adult except less white on crown, whitish forehead and crown sharply demarcated from black nape. Upper wing coverts and secondaries tipped with buff giving the back a scaled appearance.

Alternative Common Names

English: White-capped Noddy

French: Noddi noir

Spanish: Tinosa negra, Tinosa chocora, Golondrina-boba negra.


One of three species of noddy terns (Anous): two of these occur in the tropical Atlantic. The Lesser Noddy of the Pacific and Indian Oceans is sometimes considered conspecific with the Black Noddy. The subspecies of Black Noddy occurring in Caribbean basin is endemic. There are seven subspecies of Black Noddy, two of which occurs in the Atlantic, with A. n. americanus restricted to the Caribbean while A. n. atlanticus breeds on oceanic islands in the south Atlantic. 

Likely locations

Most birds roost at their breeding sites throughout the year.


Tropical Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. For the most part restricted in our region to the Caribbean Sea, and rarely in the Gulf of Mexico, possibly in Gulf Stream. Most birds remain at or near breeding islands throughout the entire year.


At sea

Populations sedentary remaining at nesting islands throughout year. Rest on flotsam and ships at sea. Birds also roost on the water, sometimes in rafts. They feed in lagoons and inshore (< 10 km from land) over schooling, predatory fish. Prey include small fish, crustaceans and squid. Birds dip and plunge at the surface and do not dive. They are diurnal and return to land to roost at night.

At the nest

Nest only in bushes and small trees. Typically found nesting with Brown Noddys. Nests are made of twigs, leafy vegetation grasses or seaweed. Females lay a single egg, pale buff in color. Incubation period is long for the size of the egg: 33-34 days. Fledge in 40-50 days. Parents feed young for months after fledging.

Current Population 

While the Brown Noddy is one of the most abundant species in the region, the Black Noddy appears to be the rarest. Formerly nested off Belize where over 1,000 pairs were reported. In Florida, one or two pairs occur regularly and may nest on Dry Tortugas. In Anguilla (Sombero) 1-6  pairs; Puerto Rico, Culebra, Noroeste Cay, “a few;” Aruba “a few.” Islands off Venezuela, probably hundreds or pairs. Total North Atlantic population probably between 100 and 300 pairs. South Atlantic (A. m. atlanticus) population small but secure.

LocationYearLow EstimateHigh Estimate
Aves (Central Caribbean)2005110
Los Roques20054460
Las Aves (Venezuela Coast)
Lago Reef20014848


Conservation Status

While this species also occurs in the Pacific and south Atlantic it is extremely rare in the North Atlantic. The only major known colony was off Belize. It was first discovered in 1862 and supported over 1000 nesting pairs. This colony disappeared prior to 1970. The Black Noddy is considered as critically endangered in the West Indies (Schreiber and Lee 2000).

Conservation Needs

Protection of nesting islands, including patrols, enforcement, and monitoring for exotic mammals (predators and browsing species). Cats and rats have been shown to cause declines in Pacific populations.

Other populations (Pacific) have responded favorably as native vegetation regenerates, and negatively when habitat is altered. Not particularly impacted by human activity such as brief visitation to colonies. However, visitations to islands by tourists, boaters and fishermen needs to be controlled. The extent of modern day egging in most of the West Indies remains unknown and because of the small size of the regional population any factor that could possibly impact these terns need to be considered.

Periodic surveys of nesting colonies are needed to document changes in numbers of breeding pairs.

Little information available on this species in the region. Surveys of Brown Noddy colonies for individual pairs of nesting Black Noddys would be helpful, including reporting information that no Black Noddys were encountered. 

Because of its behavior at sea and its rarity, it is unlikely that this species will be encountered by commercial fisheries operations.


Selected References

Clapp, R. B. and P. A. Buckley. 1984. Status and conservation of seabirds in the southeastern United States, Pp. 135-155. In J. P. Croxall, P. G. Evans and R. W. Schreiber (eds). Status and Conservation of the World's Seabirds. ICBP Tech. Publ., No. 2. 778 p.

Chardine, J. W., R. Morris, and R. L. Norton. 2000. Status and conservation needs of brown noddies and black noddies in the West Indies. Pp. 118-125. In E. A. Schreiber and D. S. Lee (eds.) Status and Conservation of West Indian Seabirds. Society of Caribbean Ornithology, Special Publication Number 1. 225 pp.

Gauger, V. H. 1999. Black Noddy (Anous minutus). In The Birds of North America, No. 412 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Kushlan, J. A. 2002. Waterbird Conservation for the Americas: the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan, Version 1. Waterbird Conservation for the Americas, Washington, DC, USA., 78 pp.

Norton, R. L. 1989. First West Indian report of the Black Noddy and nesting of Masked Booby at Sombrero Island, Lesser Antilles. Colonial Waterbirds. 12: 120-122.

Salvin, O. 1864. A fortnight amongst the sea-birds of British Honduras. Ibis 6: 372-387.

Schreiber, E. A. and D. S. Lee (eds.) Status and Conservation of West Indian Seabirds. Society of Caribbean Ornithology, Special Publication Number 1. 225 pp.

Van Halewyn, R. and R. Norton. 1984.The status and conservation of seabirds in the Caribbean. Pp. 169-222. in J. P. Croxall, P. G. Evans and R. W. Schreiber (eds.) Status and Conservation of the World's Seabirds. ICBP Tech. Publ., No. 2. 778 p.
Compiled by: Dave Lee and Will Mackin

West Indian Breeding Seabird Atlas by Will Mackin and David Lee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on work at www.wicbirds.net. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.wicbirds.net.

Suggested Citation: Lee, D. S., W. A. Mackin. 2009. Black Noddy. West Indian Breeding Seabird Atlas <http://www.wicbirds.net/blno.html>. Last Updated: _____. Date accessed: ______.

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