Sterna hirundo hirundo
Status: Uncommon regular spring and fall migrant statewide. Rare casual statewide summer visitor.
Documentation: Specimen: UNSM ZM6625, Sep 1892 Lincoln, Lancaster Co.
Taxonomy: Four subspecies are currently recognized (Gill and Donsker 2017), two breeding in central to eastern Asia (tibetana and minussensis), one in Siberia and northeast China (longipennis), and the fourth (hirundo) in the Western Hemisphere, Atlantic islands, Europe and west Africa to China.
Nebraska birds are presumed hirundo.
Spring: Apr 29, 29, 30 <<<>>> Jun 2, 4, 5
An earlier date was 27 Apr 2012 Cedar Co.
For later dates, see Summer.
Migrants pass through mostly in mid- to late May, peaking in mid-May, with a few still moving through in early to mid-Jun (see Comments).
The dates in Jun are likely two-year-old birds, which often migrate to breeding colonies, arriving in late Jun, and sometimes actually breed; one-year-olds usually remain on the wintering grounds (Nisbet et al 2020).
The only spring specimens for Nebraska are a pair, HMM 2976, collected 14 May 1924 at Kearney, Buffalo Co.
- High counts: 32 at Lake McConaughy, Keith Co 27 May 2011, 14 there 18-19 May 1997, and 13 at Lake Minatare, Scotts Bluff Co 16 May 2006.
Summer: There are several mid-summer (6 Jun-15 Aug) reports: 9 Jun 2022 Scotts Bluff Co, 11 Jun 2002 Cherry Co, 18 Jun 2014 Cherry Co, an alternate adult 21 Jun 2014 Seward Co, 21 Jun 2022 Keith Co, 3 Jul 2015 four adults Fillmore Co, 5 Jul 2020 Morrill Co, 5 Jul 2020 Box Butte Co, 16 Jul 2016 Dixon Co, 25 Jul 2006 Knox Co, 29 Jul 2010 Cherry Co, 30 Jul 2020 Scotts Bluff Co, 5 Aug 2020 Chase Co, and 7 Aug 2020 Keith Co.
Fall: Aug 16, 16, 17 <<<>>> Oct 5, 6, 7
For earlier dates, see Summer.
Later dates are 12 Oct 2019 Cedar Co, 13 Oct 2014 Lancaster Co, 14 Oct 2021 two Lancaster Co, 16 Oct 2016 Hitchcock Co, 18 Oct 2020 Knox Co, 19 Oct 2018 Lancaster Co, 24 Oct 2015 Harlan Co Reservoir, Harlan Co, 25 Oct 1997 Conestoga Lake, Lancaster Co, 26 Oct 2007, adult and juvenile, Branched Oak Lake, Lancaster Co, and 2 Nov 1997 Lake Alice, Scotts Bluff Co (Brogie 1998).
Earlier dates are likely early migrants or possibly failed breeders. Peak migration probably occurs in mid-Sep. The only known fall specimen for the state, cited above, was taken Sep 1892.
- High counts: 23 at Lake McConaughy 8 Sep 2000, 18 there 7 Sep 1998, and 11 at Lake Minatare 14 Sep 2001.
Comments: Few reports of Common Tern are well-documented, and the species can be difficult to distinguish in various plumages from the more numerous Forster’s Tern.
Spring migrants in Nebraska may involve birds from two breeding “units” (Arnold et al 2020). The “central unit” breeds in the Great Lakes region and west to eastern Manitoba, migrating essentially northwestward in spring and south to southeastward in fall to and from the Gulf Coast (Arnold et al 2020). The “northwest unit” breeds in Alberta, Saskatchewan, southern and western Manitoba, south to northeastern South Dakota and migrates across the Rocky Mountains to and from the Pacific Coast (Arnold et al 2020). Thus southward on the Great Plains spring records decline rapidly and are much fewer than from Nebraska northward; it is considered a fairly common migrant in South Dakota (Tallman et al 2002). In Oklahoma, Sutton (1967) collected 30 terns with the general appearance of the Common Tern in an effort to obtain a specimen, but all were Forster’s.
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WPA: Waterfowl Production Area (Federal)
Arnold, J.M., S.A. Oswald, I.C.T. Nisbet, P. Pyle, and M.A. Patten. 2020. Common Tern (Sterna hirundo), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.comter.01.
Gill, F., and D. Donsker (Eds). 2017. IOC World Bird List (v 7.3), accessed 30 January 2018.
Nisbet, I.C.T., J.M. Arnold, S.A. Oswald, P. Pyle, and M.A. Patten. 2020. Common Tern (Sterna hirundo), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.comter.01.
Sutton, G.M. 1967. Oklahoma birds. University of Oklahoma Press. Norman, Oklahoma, USA.
Tallman, D.A., Swanson, D.L., and J.S. Palmer. 2002. Birds of South Dakota. Midstates/Quality Quick Print, Aberdeen, South Dakota, USA.
Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2022. Common Tern (Sterna hirundo hirundo). In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org
Birds of Nebraska – Online
Updated 19 Aug 2022