Roseate Tern 

Endangered and threatened

By Catherine Mails


The roseate tern is a federally protected and endangered seabird that is mainly found in the Northern Hemisphere on the northeastern coast of North America, extending from Nova Scotia to the southern tip of Florida, as well as several islands in the Caribbean Sea. [1.]

A roseate tern adult has a white body and a black head cap. The black bill is red at the base, varying from season and age of the bird.

The bird's bright orange-red legs and feet makes it easily distinguished during the summer months, notably flapping their wings vigorously. 

They are small in size with a sleek body and only weigh approximately 4 ounces, with a wingspan of 30 inches. 

A roseate tern is mostly a saltwater coastal bird, rarely seen inland. Roseate terns, are master divers catching their prey by diving headfirst into the water.  They primarily eat small fish and occasionally mollusks.

They are a member of the gull family.[2.]


Northeastern terns migrate back to Connecticut from waters off Trinidad and northern South America, and from the Pacific coast of Columbia to eastern Brazil. Their return to Connecticut is usually late April and early May.

The third largest roseate tern colony in North America, exists in  Guilford, Connecticut at Faulkner’s  Island; which is now part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. Other colony sightings in Connecticut are: Tuxis Island off Madison and Duck Island in Clinton.[2.]

The first eggs are laid by the three week of  May.

Common threats to the terns are: owls, gulls and raptors. Gulls have been the biggest threat stalking out  the nesting areas before the terns return in the spring, and take over the colony area. Once the gulls have moved into the once populated tern colony the terns will not

 return to that area. Another disturbance to colonies is the increased popularity of beach goers and boaters.


Endangerment in Connecticut History

During the late 1800's the roseate terns almost came too a tragic end, due to the millinery trade.[3.]


During 1875 and the early 1900's, hunters killed hundreds and thousands of snowy egrets, owls, terns and other elegant birds to almost extinction just for the making of hats or the feathers used for hair pieces and brooches.[4.]

An article written in The Good Housekeeping magazine, reported in  its  winter of   1886-1887 issue: “At Cape Cod, 40,000 terns have been killed in one season by a single agent in the hat trade.” 

So goes it, by the 1890's women conservationists from around the  country rallied to protect the American birds.[4.]

Finally, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 which made it "unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, possess, sell, purchase, barter, import, export, or transport any migratory bird" — effectively put an end to the omnipresent bird and feather hats.[4.]


Thus, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working on enforcing this Treaty and protecting the wildlife from today's threats such as wind turbines and cellphone towers.[1.]



[1.] U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

[2.] Department of Energy & Environmental Protection

[2.] Department of Energy & Environmental Protection

[3.] Wikipedia

[4.] Millinery

[4.] Good housekeeping

[4.] Conservationists

[4.] Bird Treaty

[1.] U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

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