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Yellow-billed Tern - BirdForum Opus

Breeding adult
Photo © by Joseph Morlan
Rio Amazonas, Iquitos, Peru, 9 June 2019
Sternula superciliaris

Sterna superciliaris


23 cm (9 in)

  • Yellow bill
  • Yellow legs
  • Black cap
  • White forehead
  • In flight it shows dark outer primaries both above and below and a very shallow fork in the short tail
Molting adult
Photo © by Alexandre Vinot
Kourou French Guiana, 5 February 2007

Juvenile browner than adult, with more orange bill and dark both on tip and on a saddle at the base of the culmen.
Later during first year, the plumage is more like adult, but having dark rear to the eye but pale grey crown. A dark carpal bar is seen on upperwing and can be seen in the standing bird. Dark saddle and tip on the bill continues a period after the bill turns yellow in base color and then gradually disappears.

Similar Species

In comparison to Least Tern, the bill averages bigger and yellower, lacking black tip. Also Yellow-billed Tern has longer legs and more black in its wings.


First Year Bird
Photo © by NJ Larsen
SFF Los Flamencos, El Camarones, Guajira, Colombia, 28 August 2023

Central and South America
Central America: Trinidad, Tobago
South America: Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina


This is a monotypic species[1].

Yellow-billed Tern is closely related to Least Tern and Little Tern S. albifrons of the Old World. Other close relatives include the Peruvian Tern S. lorata of South America. Like all of these, it was formerly placed in the genus Sterna.

Non-breeding adult
Photo by Steve G
Piarco Sewage works, Trinidad, 17 May 2006


Rivers, swamps, and freshwater lakes. Coastal in the Guianas where moulting in large numbers.


Frequently hovers when hunting.


Their diet consists of small fish, shrimps and insects.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Avibase
  3. Arthur Grosset
  4. Gochfeld, M., Burger, J., Garcia, E.F.J. & Boesman, P. (2019). Yellow-billed Tern (Sternula superciliaris). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/54034 on 30 June 2019).
  5. Yellow-billed Tern (Sternula superciliaris), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/yebter2
  6. birdforum member observations.

Recommended Citation

External Links

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