Hydroprogne caspia

Status:  Uncommon regular spring and fall migrant statewide. Uncommon regular summer visitor Lake McConaughy, rare elsewhere.

Documentation:  Specimen: UNSM ZM14209, 5 May 1893 Salt Lake, Lancaster Co (Hudson 1934).

TaxonomyNo subspecies are recognized.

Spring:  Apr 22, 22, 22 <<<>>> summer

There is an earlier report 16 Apr 2016 Hall Co.

Caspian Tern is primarily a May migrant, mostly at large lakes and reservoirs. In recent years reports from the Panhandle have increased, possibly as a result of regional population increases (Wires and Cuthbert 2000).

  • High counts: 28 at Branched Oak Lake, Lancaster Co 21 May 1997, 23 at Gavin’s Point Dam in Cedar Co 19 May 2021, and 20 at Branched Oak Lake 13 May 2012.

Summer: There are numerous mid-summer records, presumably of immatures; most do not breed until their fourth summer (Cuthbert and Wires 2020). One-year-olds generally remain on the wintering range, but sub-adults have the greatest tendency to wander (L’Arrivee and Blokpoel 1988; Cuthbert and Wires 2020). Caspian Terns prefer large bodies of water and so most summer records are from Lake McConaughy, but are widespread. Fewest reports are in the period Jun-Aug; high counts at this time are at Lake McConaughy: 12 on 24 Jun 1996 (Brown et al 1996), and six on both 20 Jun 1989 (Rosche 1994) and 22 Jun 1996.

Fall:  summer <<<>>> Sep 25, 26, 26

Later dates are 28 Sep 2017 Seward Co, 29 Sep 2014 Lancaster Co, 1 Oct 2010 Lancaster Co, 24 Sep-8 Oct 2015 Lancaster Co, and 7 Nov 2003 Red Willow Co . The first report from the Panhandle occurred in Dawes Co 18 Jul 1990 (Grzybowski 1990), but since then there have been as many reports from the west as from the east.

Migration occurs from late Aug through most of Sep.

  • High counts:  22 at LaPlatte Bottoms, Sarpy Co 8 Sep 2018,  17 at Branched Oak Lake 16 Sep 2013, and 14 there 6 Sep 2003.


NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
SRA: State Recreation Area
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum


Photograph (top) of a juvenile (front) and adult Caspian Tern at Pawnee Lake, Lancaster Co 26 Sep 2017 by Steve Kruse.

Literature Cited

Brogie, M.A. 2004. 2003 (15th) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 72: 59-65.

Brown, C.R., M.B. Brown, P.A. Johnsgard, J. Kren, and W.C. Scharf. 1996. Birds of the Cedar Point Biological Station area, Keith and Garden Counties, Nebraska: Seasonal occurrence and breeding data. Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences 23: 91-108.

Cuthbert, F.J. and L.R. Wires. 2020. Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Gates, D. 1960. Thirty-sixth Annual Cooperative Spring Migration and Occurrence Report. NBR 28: 58-73.

Grzybowski, J.A. 1990. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 44: 454-457.

Hudson, G.E. 1934. The first record specimen for Nebraska of the Caspian Tern. NBR 2: 37.

L’Arrivee, L., and H. Blokpoel. 1988. Seasonal Distribution and Site Fidelity in Great Lakes Caspian Terns. Waterbirds 11: 202-214.

Rosche, R.C. 1994. Birds of the Lake McConaughy area and the North Platte River valley, Nebraska.  Published by the author, Chadron, Nebraska, USA.

Swanson, C.H. 1961. Letters to the Editor. NBR 29: 40.

Wires, L.R., and F.J. Cuthbert. 2000. Trends in Caspian tern numbers and distribution in North America: a review. Waterbirds 23: 388–404.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2021. Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 2 Jun 2021