Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Black tern
Chlidonias niger

 

Taxonomy
Occurence in Illinois
Status
Habitat associations
Guilds
Food-habits
Environmental associations
Life history
Management practices
References


TAXONOMY

 

  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Charadriiformes
  • Family: Laridae
  • Genus: Chlidonias
  • Species: Chlidonias niger
  • Authority: Linnaeus

Comments on taxonomy:
Subspecies in Illinois: C.n. surinamensis.


OCCURENCE IN ILLINOIS

Early May-late May, late July-late Sept. common migrant. common summer resident in north and rare summer resident (locally) in central *01*. In 1982 nests located in McHenry Co., Cook Co., Lake Co. *17*.

 


STATUS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories
Forest Service Categories: S = recommended for regional sensitive status, F = forest listed species, M = management indicator species

Federal Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed for listing
Candidate for proposal Recovery plan approved Recovery plan received (USFWS)
Recovery plan in preparation Under notice of review Delisted
Migratory EPA indicator Forest Serv.- Shawnee species

State Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed

Other:

Game Furbearer Nongame protected
Sportfish Commercial Pest None of the above

Comments on status:
See *02* for present distribution. The black tern suffers from destruction of habitat and small population numbers *02*. This species is protected under the Illinois Endangered Species Act, 1972 *02*, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, 1918 *16* and the Illinois Wildlife Code, 1971 *18*.

 


HABITAT ASSOCIATIONS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories

General habitat:

Unknown Terrestrial Aquatic Riparian

USFS timber inventory forest size class:

Unknown Unstocked Seedling Sapling
Seedling/sapling Pole Mature Over mature

Land use and land cover:

Unknown   Urban Residential
Commercial
Industrial
Transportation, communication
Complex industrial/commercial
Mixed
Other
Agricultural Crop, pasture
Orchards, groves, nurseries
Feedlot
Other
Rangeland Herbaceous
Shrub and brush
Mixed
Forestland Deciduous
Evergreen
Mixed
Water Stream
Lake
Reservoir
Bay
Wetland Forest
Non-forest
Barren Salt flat
Beach
Sand
Rock
Mine
Transit
Mix

 


Forest cover types: No records.

Associated tree species: No records.

National wetland inventory classifications:

SystemSubsystemClassSubclassWater regime modifiersWater chemistry
Lacustrine Limnetic Open water of unknown bottom type   Intermittently exposed/permanent nontidal Freshwater
Lacustrine Littoral Emergent vegetation Narrowleaved persistent Intermittently exposed/permanent nontidal Freshwater
Lacustrine Littoral Emergent vegetation Broadleaved persistent Intermittently exposed/permanent nontidal Freshwater
Palustrine   Emergent vegetation Narrowleaved persistent Intermittently exposed/permanent nontidal Freshwater
Palustrine   Emergent vegetation Broadleaved persistent Intermittently exposed/permanent nontidal Freshwater
Palustrine   Open water of unknown bottom type   Intermittently exposed/permanent nontidal Freshwater

Comments on species-habitat associations:
Primary habitat in Illinois is glacial lake edges providing ample amounts of cover and open water *02*.

Important plant and animal association: Typha spp., Forster's tern, muskrats. Preferred breeding habitat usually is associated with Typhaspp. Which provide nest sites and material *04,05,06,09,10,11*. Forster's tern also nest on inland lakes but no apparent competition exists *07*. Muskrats provide nest-sites by creating suitable substrate *02,07*.

High value habitats

HabitatStructural stageSeason
Nonforested wetland Special habitat Spring/summer
Lakes Special habitat Spring/summer
Lakes Special habitat Fall
Wet prairie Special habitat Spring/summer
Wetland Special habitat Spring/summer
Wetland Special habitat Fall
Marsh Special habitat Spring/summer
Lakes and ponds Special habitat Spring/summer
Lakes and ponds Special habitat Fall
Marsh restoration Special habitat Spring/summer

Species-habitat interrelations: Type (wetland), function (breeding/feeding) value (high) season (spring/summer/fall) *01,06,11*. Preferred nesting habitat apparently lake edges or marshes where marsh vegetation (cattail, bulrush, etc.) Is locally low and thin most commonly near open water *06*. See *06,07* for more detail.

 


GUILDS

Feed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonFeed-guilds
Water All Fall Water surface - arthropods
Water surface - invertebrates other than zooplankton or arthropods
Water surface - fish
Water All Spring/summer Water surface - arthropods
Water surface - invertebrates other than zooplankton or arthropods
Water surface - fish
Wetland Special habitat Fall Water surface - arthropods
Water surface - invertebrates other than zooplankton or arthropods
Water surface - fish
Wetland Special habitat Spring/summer Water surface - arthropods
Water surface - invertebrates other than zooplankton or arthropods
Water surface - fish

Comments on feed-guilding:
Black terns apparently glean most insect prey off marsh vegetation or from the air *04,05,06*. Sometimes thought of as primarily insectivorous, but does take fish and a substantial amount is fed to chicks *10*.

Breed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonBreed-Guilds
Wetland Special habitat Spring/summer Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
River/lake/marsh, vascular plants- floating, nonwoody, nonrooted
River/lake/marsh, vascular plants- emergent, nonwoody
Terrestrial surface, herbaceous litter

Comments on breed-guilding:
Nest-sites are typically on low wet substrate *07*. Typically detriral mat, old muskrat lodges, etc.

 


FOOD-HABITS

Trophic level is CARNIVORE

Food itemLife stage/plant part
Invertebrates Unknown
Mollusca Unknown
Arachnida (spiders, ticks, scorpions, daddy longlegs) Unknown
Malacostraca (isopods, amphipods, crayfishes) Unknown
Insecta Unknown
Ephemeroptera (mayflies) Unknown
Odonata (dragonflies, damselflies) Unknown
Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches) Unknown
Homoptera (cicadas, aphids) Unknown
Coleoptera (beetles) Unknown
Tricoptera (caddisflies) Unknown
Lepidoptera (butterfiles, moths) Unknown
Diptera (flies, midges, mosquitoes) Unknown
Osteichthyes (bony fishes) Unknown
Cypriniformes (carps, minnows, loaches) Unknown
Salientia (frogs, toads) Juvenile
Important:
Insecta Unknown
Odonata (dragonflies, damselflies) Unknown
Osteichthyes (bony fishes) Unknown
Cypriniformes (carps, minnows, loaches) Unknown
Juvenile:
Insecta Unknown
Ephemeroptera (mayflies) Unknown
Odonata (dragonflies, damselflies) Unknown
Osteichthyes (bony fishes) Unknown
Cypriniformes (carps, minnows, loaches) Unknown
Adult:
Invertebrates Unknown
Mollusca Unknown
Arachnida (spiders, ticks, scorpions, daddy longlegs) Unknown
Malacostraca (isopods, amphipods, crayfishes) Unknown
Insecta Unknown
Ephemeroptera (mayflies) Unknown
Odonata (dragonflies, damselflies) Unknown
Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches) Unknown
Homoptera (cicadas, aphids) Unknown
Coleoptera (beetles) Unknown
Tricoptera (caddisflies) Unknown
Lepidoptera (butterfiles, moths) Unknown
Diptera (flies, midges, mosquitoes) Unknown
Osteichthyes (bony fishes) Unknown
Cypriniformes (carps, minnows, loaches) Unknown
Salientia (frogs, toads) Juvenile

Comments on food habits: 
General: Black terns eat mostly insects but also take small fishes. Odonates appear important.
Juvenile: It appears fish make up a substantial proportion (up to 13%) of a chick's diet. Fish may provide at least 1/3 of the protein required by a growing chick *10*.
Adult: See comments on general food habits.


ENVIRONMENTAL ASSOCIATIONS

General:

  • Biodegradable organics: clean waters that have not been polluted
  • Aquatic habitat: shallows with emergent vegetation (littoral zone)
  • Water depth preference: 1-5 ft.
  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: sloughs, bayous
  • Aquatic habitats: prairie potholes
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: oxbow
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Ground cover- grass (%): see comments
  • Unknown

Limiting:

  • Biodegradable organics: clean waters that have not been polluted
  • Water depth preference: 1-5 ft.
  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Ground cover- grass (%): see comments

Egg

  • Unknown

Feeding juvenile:

  • Biodegradable organics: clean waters that have not been polluted
  • Aquatic habitat: shallows with emergent vegetation (littoral zone)
  • Water depth preference: 1-5 ft.
  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: sloughs, bayous
  • Aquatic habitats: prairie potholes
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Grasses: see comments

Resting juvenile:

  • Aquatic habitat: shallows with emergent vegetation (littoral zone)
  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: sloughs, bayous
  • Aquatic habitats: prairie potholes
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Ground cover- grass (%): see comments

Feeding adult:

  • Biodegradable organics: clean waters that have not been polluted
  • Aquatic habitat: shallows with emergent vegetation (littoral zone)
  • Water depth preference: 1-5 ft.
  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: sloughs, bayous
  • Aquatic habitats: prairie potholes
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Grasses: see comments

Resting adult:

  • Aquatic habitat: shallows with emergent vegetation (littoral zone)
  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: sloughs, bayous
  • Aquatic habitats: prairie potholes
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Grasses: see comments

Breeding adult:

  • Biodegradable organics: clean waters that have not been polluted
  • Aquatic habitat: shallows with emergent vegetation (littoral zone)
  • Water depth preference: 1-5 ft.
  • Aquatic habitats: typha-scirpus marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: sloughs, bayous
  • Aquatic habitats: prairie potholes
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Ground cover- grass (%): see comments

Comments on environmental associations:
General: No comments.
Feeding juvenile: Upon fledging young birds establish feeding territories characterized by available perches, emergent vegetation, and open water. See *06*.
Resting juvenile: Juveniles rest in nest, marsh vegetation, and on perches (floating logs, etc.) *04,06,09*.
Feeding adult: Emergent vegetation (i.E. Cattails, bulrushes) are a primary source for insect prey. Insects and small fishes are taken from open water. Unpolluted wetland situations.
Resting adult: ADULTS PREEN OR SLEEP LIGHTLY WHEN ON NEST *06*.
Breeding adult: Wetland situations with interspersion of emergent vegetation and open water *07*. Plant species composition may vary but density is usually moderate *10*. Water level from 1 m-1 ft. deep and nests usually adjacent to open water *10*.


LIFE HISTORY

Origin: Native *01,14*.

Physical description: 9-10 1/2 Inches long: wt. to 2 1/4 oz. Our only black-bodied tern. Breeding: head and underparts black; back wings and tail dark grey, undertail coverts white. Short notched tail. Winter and immature: white head and underparts dark around eyes, ears and back of neck. Dark patches on sides of breast *04,15*.

Reproduction: Breeding season from late May-late July *01,05*. Courtship is somewhat ritualized including posturing and aerial gliding similar to common tern, see *06*. Unclear who chooses territory but presumed male. Who chooses nest site unknown. Preferred nest site where vegetation low and thin as approaching areas of open water. For detailed description see *06,10*. Nest often placed on pre-existing mat of floating dead vegetation lodged in emergent vegetation *07,10*. Also, old flattened muskrat lodges *05*. Fairly opportunistic as long as low wet substrate. Female apparently constructs the nest using materials gathered from water surrounding nest, usually old weed stems, dead rushes, wet and decaying plant materials *05,09*. Construction varies from elaborate to mere depression in prostrate vegetation *05*. Eggs are olive or buff colored, heavily spotted with brown *04,05*; dimensions, mean = 34 x 24 mm.; wt. mean = 10 gm. (20) *10*. Ave. clutch size is 3 (2-5) *04,05,06,07,09,10*. Eggs are layed on 1 day intervals *06,10*. Both sexes incubate, 21-22 days *04,06,07*. Incubation begins after the 1st egg *10*. Hatchlings are precocial, covered in cinnamon down with black spots and white faces; wt. mean = 7.25 g (3) *10* (for descript. see *06,10). Both sexes brood, exhibiting nest-reinforcement behavior at change-over *06*. Chicks are able to leave nest at 2 days of age, and fledging occurs approximately 19 days *04,06,10*. Flight occurs at approximately 25-30 days *04,10*. (Chick development described in *06,10*). At this time, individual broods establish feeding territories, being attended by only 1 adult; at approximately 38 days can feed themselves *06*. In the southern part of breeding range, black terns may raise 2 broods per year *04*. Breeding age not available.

Behavior: Cuthbert (1954) considers black tern 'partially colonial' *06*, though group tenacity has been observed *10*. Loose colonies rarely exceed 20 prs. and scattered isolated nests often observed *06*. Territory size is unavailable see *05,06,09,10* for distance between nests. Black terns are very aggressive toward intruders *08, 04,06*. Chicks leave nest upon disturbance of parental signal and hide in surrounding vegetation *04,05,06,09*. A feeding territory is established and defended after fledging, see *06*. Black terns are primarily insectivorous but do forage for small fish with substantial amounts (up to 13%) being fed to young *10*. Diet and other parameters reduce competition between this species and marsh co-inhabitant Forster's tern (see *07*). The black tern shows flexibility concerning nest substrate but general habitat requirements are essential *07,10*. May build axillary nests *06*.

Limiting factors: Habitat *02,12*; wind and wave action *07*; water levels *12* enemies, assumed to be similar to those of Forster's tern *00,04,05*; massive spraying of marshes with insecticides (mainly DDT) for mosquito control *04*.

Population parameters: Little information is available. Black tern populations in the great lakes appear to remain stable from year to year as long as marsh habitats are protected *12*. High water levels have destroyed much of this habitat, therefore the populations may be expected to decline *12*. Mortality and survival rates and sex ratio unavailable. Majority of mortality occurs at the egg stage *10*. Bergman et al. (1970) Reported 29% nesting success (see *07*). Ave. lifespan unknown. Oldest bird 17 yrs. 2 mos. recovered in Europe *04*.

 


MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

Beneficial:

  • Maintaining undisturbed/undeveloped areas
  • Maintaining natural areas and nature preserves
  • Preserving endangered species habitat
  • Preserving sensitive species habitat
  • Performing special survey prior to prescription
  • Performing field survey prior to prescription
  • Controlling land use and human activities
  • Seasonal restriction of human use of habitats
  • Controlling pollution
  • Controlling pollution in aquatic habitats
  • Controlling water levels
  • Developing/maintaining lakes and ponds
  • Developing/maintaining wetlands
  • Creating/maintaining wetlands from non-wetlands
  • Protecting existing wetlands
  • Restoration of wetlands (return flooded or drained areas to previous wetland conditions)
  • Developing/maintaining water holes, ponds, potholes, etc.
  • Restricting human disturbance during migration, breeding, and nesting
  • Estimating/maintaining nesting and escape cover

Adverse:

  • Controlling aquatic plants
  • Draining ponds/lakes
  • Draining wetlands
  • Strip mining

Comments on management practices:
Maintainance of high water quality, protection of habitat from destruction or alteration, and avoidance of human disturbance should be primary means of protection in Illinois *02*. Public awareness must be increased as to the values of marshes *02*. The black tern is protected by the Illinois Endangered Species Act 1972 *02* and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, 1918 *16*, and the Ill. Wildlife Code, 1971 *18*.

 


REFERENCES

0. MALMBORG, P.L. 1984. ILL. NAT. HIST. SURV., 607 E. PEABODY DR., CHAMPAIGN, ILL. (217)333-6846.

1. BOHLEN, H.D. 1978. AN ANNOTATED CHECKLIST OF THE BIRDS OF ILLINOIS. ILL. STATE MUS. POP. SCI. SER. VOL. IX.

2. BOWLES, M.L., V.E. DIERSING, J.E. EBINGER AND H.C. SCHULTZ, EDS. 1981. ENDANGERED AND THREATENED VERTEBRATE ANIMALS AND VASCULAR PLANTS OF ILLINOIS. ILLINOIS DEPT. CONSERV. 189 P.

3. DUBOIS, A.D. 1931. BLACK TERNS FEEDING YOUNG IN MINNEAPOLIS. OOLOGIST 48:72-73.

4. TERRES, J.K. 1980. THE AUDUBON SOCIETY: ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. ALFRED A. KNOPF, NEW YORK. 1109 P.

5. BENT, A.C. 1921. LIFE HISTORIES OF NORTH AMERICAN GULLS & TERNS. U.S. NAT'L. MUS. BULL. NO. 113.

6. CUTHBERT, N.L. 1954. A NESTING STUDY OF THE BLACK TERN IN MICHIGAN. AUK 71:36-63.

7. BERGMAN, R.D., P. SWAIN, AND M.W. WELLER. 1970. A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF NESTING FORSTER'S AND BLACK TERNS. WILSON BULL. 82(4):435-444.

8. HOFFMAN, P.W. 1927. HOME LIFE OF THE BLACK TERN IN WISCONSIN. WILSON BULL. 39:78-80.

9. HOFFMANN, P.W. 1926. NESTING OF THE BLACK TERN IN WISCONSIN. AUK 43:86 -87.

10. DUNN, E.H. 1979. NESTING BIOLOGY AND DEVELOPMENT OF YOUNG IN ONTARIO BLACK TERNS. CAN. FIELD-NATUR. 93(3):276-281.

11. SCHARF, W.C. 1979. NESTING AND MIGRATION AREAS OF BIRDS OF THE U.S. GREAT LAKES (30 APRIL TO 25 AUGUST 1976). U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, OFFICE OF BIOLOGICAL SERVICES. FWS/OBS-77/2. 113 P.

12. MARTIN, A., H. ZIM AND A. NELSON. 1951. AMERICAN WILDLIFE AND PLANTS. MCGRAW-HILL BOOK CO., NEW YORK. 500 P.

13. PROVOST, M.W. 1947. NESTING BIRDS IN THE MARSHES OF NORTHWEST IOWA. WILSON BULL. 38:485-503.

14. AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGISTS' UNION. 1982. THIRTY-FOURTH SUPPLEMENT TO THE AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGISTS' UNION. CHECK-LIST OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. SUPPLEMENT AUK 99(3).

15. PETERSON, R. 1980. A FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS. 4 ED. HOUGHTON-MIFFLIN CO., BOSTON. 384 P.

16. U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERV. 1983. CODE OF FEDERAL REGULATIONS. TITLE 50. WIDLIFE AND FISHERIES. CHAPTER 1 PP. 11-18. 50 CFR 10.13. LIST OF MIGRATORY BIRDS. SPEC. PUBL. FEDERAL REGISTER. GENERAL SERV. ADMIN. OCT. 1.

17. KLEEN, V. 1983. FIELD NOTES: BREEDING SEASON. ILL. AUDUBON BULL. NO. 203.

18. ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION. 1980. CONSERVATION LAWS. CH. 61. WILDLIFE. ART. II PAR. 2.2. REPRINTED FROM ILLINOIS REVISED STATUTES, 1979. WEST PUBL. CO., ST. PAUL, MN. 120 PP.

 


 

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