Sterna forsteri

Status:  Common regular spring and fall migrant statewide. Locally common regular breeder northwest and north-central. Rare regular summer visitor statewide away from breeding locations.

Documentation:  Specimen: UNSM ZM6627, 16 Jun 1902 Dewey Lake, Cherry Co.

TaxonomyNo subspecies are recognized.

Spring:  Apr 7, 8, 8 <<<>>> Jun 17, 17, 18

Earlier dates are 28 Mar 2020 Lancaster Co, 29 Mar 2016 Keith Co, and 5 Apr 2020 Lincoln Co.

Late dates above are from locations in the south and east. After 10 Jun there are several records of stragglers through 18 Jun. See Summer for later reports. Later dates are 20 Jun 2004 five Harlan Co, 20 Jun 2013 Douglas Co, and 23 Jun 2015 Hall Co.

Individuals arrive generally by mid-Apr and peak migration occurs in mid-May.

  • High counts:  228 in Hall Co 11 May 2002, 133 at Lake McConaughy, Keith Co 14 May, 132 there 18 May 1995, and 110 at Lakes North and Babcock, Platte Co 27 Apr 2019.

Summer: Johnsgard (1997) noted that breeding is “highly localized” in Cherry and Garden Cos and speculated that the species may also breed in the Sandhills lakes of Sheridan Co. Brown et al (1996) indicated that breeding occurs at Crescent Lake NWR, Garden Co and also at “sandhills marshes in Arthur Co,” but provided no further details. About 60 birds were at a nesting site at Goose Lake, Crescent Lake NWR 13 Jun 1997, and breeding was noted at Square Lake, western Cherry Co 28 Jun 2004.

Reports away from breeding locations in mid-summer (latter half of Jun) are numerous, especially in the north and west. About 30% of summer reports are from the south and east, most of single birds, but three were in Lancaster Co 18 Jun 2018 and five were at Harlan Co Reservoir, Harlan Co 20 Jun 2004.

  • Nesting Phenology:
    Eggs: 30 Jun-20 Jul
    Fledglings: 30 Jun-20 Jul

Fall:  Jun 25, 26, 27 <<<>>> Oct 20, 20, 21

Early dates above are from the south and east; most are immatures, which leave breeding colonies before breeding adults, or immature non-breeders. Juveniles arrived at Lake McConaughy 22 Jul 2001.

Later dates are 24 Oct 2015 Harlan Co, 25 Oct 2020 Lancaster Co, 1 Nov 1996 basic-plumaged adult at Sutherland Reservoir, Lincoln Co (Brogie 1997), 8 Nov 1998 Sherman Reservoir, Sherman Co, and two very late birds at Lake McConaughy 17 Nov 2012.

Most Forster’s Terns depart by mid- to late Sep, as there are only about 25 reports for Oct.

  • High counts: 369-400 at Branched Oak Lake 10 Aug 2014, 175 there 31 Aug 2012, 167 there 26 Jul 2020, 136 there 27 Jul 2019, and 134 there 1 Aug 2018. Tout (1947) reported “hundreds” near North Platte, Lincoln Co 6 Sep 1937.


NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum

Literature Cited

Brogie, M.A. 1997. 1996 (Eighth) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 65: 115-126.

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.

Johnsgard, P.A. 1997. The birds of Nebraska and adjacent plains states. Occasional Papers No. 6, Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union. Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Tout, W. 1947. Lincoln County birds. Published by the author, North Platte, Nebraska, USA.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2020. Forster’s Tern (Sterna forsteri). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 29 Dec 2020