for Bridled Terns all other black terns are have dark ventral
surfaces (although adult male Black Terns have white under-wings).
Sooty Terns are larger (43-45 cm (17-18 inches) total length) than
Bridled Terns, their white forehead extends only back to the eye, and
they lack a white collar.
of first breeding 4-10
years. Known to live for up to 34 years. Black dorsally with white
breast, necks, under wings and tail, and forehead. Similar appearing
adult Bridled Terns have white cervical collar.
Sooty Terns tend to be sooty brown (appear black) with white
spotting on upper wing, have all black heads, and in their second to
adult years have variably dark heads, necks and upper breasts. Once
leave their nesting islands most young Sooty Terns live in the eastern
south Atlantic until they achieve adult plumage.
French: Sterne fuligineuse
Spanish: Charrdon sombrio
species of dark-backed, pelagic Sterna,
three of which are tropical. In
the past, the tropical species have been placed from time to time in
genera. Seven subspecies are recognized; the nominate is the only one
occurring in the Atlantic.
nesting sites and after tropical storms seldom seen from land, species
is highly pelagic.
occurs throughout the world's tropical seas.
population breeds throughout the Bahamas and Greater and Lesser
Antilles, also on US coast, North Carolina (sporadic), Florida Keys,
Louisiana and Texas coasts. Additional colonies are known from the
Caribbean coastal cays of Mexico and islands off the coast of northern
South America. Outside this region, species also breeds on a number of
tropical Atlantic oceanic islands.
sooty terns from the Western North Atlantic live primarily off the west
coast of Africa. Adults are largely confined to the tropical seas of
our region and, in summer, a few wander north through the Gulf
high-flying and frequently in large flocks, sometimes thousands of
birds are in a single flock. Feeding flocks, often mixed with other
species of pelagic birds, form over foraging surface feeding fishes
(frequently schools of tuna). Hunts from 1-20 meters above surface
descending as prey nears surface. Catches prey by aerial dipping and
contact dipping. Main foods are small pelagic fishes and squid. Does
not land on water as development of uropygial gland does not provide
for proper oiling of feathers during preening.
adults swarm over nesting islands at night for months prior to nest
construction. Can arrive as early as February, but most appear in late
April and May. Nest in both open and vegetated sites depending on
location. Nest is a simple scrape. Single, pale, speckled egg. Average
incubation 30 days. Fledge in about 8 weeks (dependent on food
availability). Remain in colony another half-month and are fed by
parents. Parents probably continue to feed fledglings at sea over the
following 2-3 months. Young birds return to nesting sites as breeding
adults in 4 to 10 years.
United States (Dry Tortugas)
Turks and Caicos
US Virgin Islands
St. Christopher and Nevis
Antigua and Barbuda
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago
United States: Single large nesting colony at Dry Tortugas, but small
groups and individual pairs occasionally nest along Gulf Coast and
north to the Outer Banks: 40,000 pairs (Clapp and Buckley 1984);
Bahamas: 4,000-8,000 pairs (Salvia 2000); West Indies: 200,000-300,000
pairs (Salvia 2000); Islands off Central America: ca 1,000s (van
Norton 1984); Islands off South America 30,000+ (van Halewyn and Norton
1984). Greater Caribbean: Total 230,000-500,000+ pairs. (Sylva 2000;
van Halewyn and Norton 1984)
et al. (2003) estimate 3,360,000-4,380,000 (1,680,000-2,190,000 pairs)
Sooty Terns in the Americas. This figure includes breeding colonies in
portions of the tropical Pacific. While this is the most common seabird
nesting in the West Indies the region’s colonies are small in
comparison to some in the Indian Ocean where single colonies many have
hundreds of thousands of nests. The global population (probably also
the entire galaxy) is estimated to be 18-23 million pairs (Schreiber et
This is the
abundant seabird breeding in the tropical Atlantic. Many of its nesting
colonies are protected and it is not a species of conservation concern.
size of some of the larger colonies this became THE egg bird of the
region. Egging is done on both subsistence and commercial scales and
continues today in many places throughout the West Indies where
colonies have little or no protection. Many still believe that
seabird and marine turtle eggs possess aphrodisiac qualities. At least
in the past when large numbers of eggs were collected, people would go
through entire colonies stepping on all the eggs, and then later return
and collect the eggs knowing they were fresh and of market quality. All
colonies of Sooty Terns with more than a few hundred pairs need
constant surveillance during the peak nesting periods.
the species abundance, it is in need of protection. The majority of
nest in 13 colonies of 1,000 or more pairs. These sites should all be
off limits to visitation during the breeding season and given whatever
levels of protection are necessary. Exotic predator control may be
necessary at some sites, and vegetation management should be considered
on a site-by-site basis. Several of the really large colonies (10,000
or more pairs) would benefit from seasonal wardens being stationed at
dogs and cats are the biggest threat to regional colonies and attempts
should be made to eradicate them from breeding sites. As in many
seabird colonies, black and Norway rats can be significant factors in
the loss of eggs and chicks. The introduced red fire ant is also
to have negative impact on colony success. Individual Laughing Gulls
that are seen making a living patrolling tern colonies for eggs and
chicks should be eliminated.
has been well studied within in the region (Florida Keys, Puerto Rico).
Seminal annual census of the large colonies is needed to insure
stability. Many sites have not been surveyed for decades. The West
Indies region is dotted with small rocks and cays with <100
nesting Sooty Terns. While individually less important than the larger
colony sites, collectively these smaller sites represent a significant
portion of the total population. These sites need to be identified and
periodically monitored. In some cases posting these colonies would be
beneficial but many are in existence because they are on rocks that are
not assessable by boat. Others are isolated and seldom visited.
and enforcement programs need to stepped-up throughout the region.
B. and P. A. Buckley. 1984. Status and conservation of seabirds in the
southeastern United States. Pages
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.
W. W. Jr. 1964. The terns of the Dry Tortugas. Bull. Fla. State Museum
Biological Sciences. 8: 1-95.
J. E. 2000. Conservation priorities for Sooty Terns in the West Indies.
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.
E. A., C. J. Feare, B. A.
Harrington, B. G. Murray, Jr., W. B. Robertson, Jr., M. J. Robertson,
and G. E. Woolfenden. 2002. Sooty Tern (Sterna
fuscata). In The Birds
of North America, No. 665 (A Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of
North America, Inc. Philadelphia, PA.
J. A., et al. 2002. Waterbird Conservation for the Americas: the North
American Waterbird Conservation Plan, Version 1. Waterbird Conservation
for the Americas, Washington, DC, USA. 78 pp.
Halewyn, R. and R. Norton. 1984.The status and conservation of seabirds
in the Caribbean. Pages
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.
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.
Citation: Lee, D. S., W. A. Mackin. 2008. Sooty Tern. West Indian
Breeding Seabird Atlas
<http://www.wicbirds.net/sote.html>. Last Updated: _____.
Date accessed: ______.