Birds Vol 1 #3 – The Black Tern

Black Tern, Mother and young with eggs, for Birds Illustrated

Black Tern, Mother and young with eggs, for Birds Illustrated

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

Vol 1. March, 1897 No. 3



HE TERN,” says Mr. F. M. Woodruff, of the Chicago Academy of Sciences, “is the only representative of the long-winged swimmers which commonly nests with us on our inland fresh water marshes, arriving early in May in its brooding plumage of sooty black. The color changes in the autumn to white, and a number of the adult birds may be found, in the latter part of July, dotted and streaked here and there with white. On the first of June, 1891, I found a large colony of Black Terns nesting on Hyde Lake, Cook County, Illinois. As I approached the marsh a few birds were seen flying high in the air, and, as I neared the nesting site, the flying birds gave notes of alarm, and presently the air was filled with the graceful forms of this beautiful little bird. They circled about me, darting down to within a few feet of my head, constantly uttering a harsh, screaming cry. As the eggs are laid upon the bare ground, which the brownish and blackish markings so closely resemble, I was at first unable to find the nests, and discovered that the only way to locate them was to stand quietly and watch the birds. When the Tern is passing over the nest it checks its flight, and poises for a moment on quivering wings. By keeping my eyes on this spot I found the nest with very little trouble. The complement of eggs, when the bird has not been disturbed, is usually three. These are laid in a saucer shaped structure of dead vegetation, which is scraped together, from the surface of the wet, boggy ground. The bird figured in the plate had placed its nest on the edge of an old muskrat house, and my attention was attracted to it by the fact that upon the edge of the rat house, where it had climbed to rest itself, was the body of a young dabchick, or piedbilled grebe, scarcely two and one-half inches long, and not twenty-four hours out of the egg, a beautiful little ball of blackish down, striped with brown and white. From the latter part of July to the middle of August large flocks of Black Terns may be seen on the shores of our larger lakes on their annual migration southward.”

The Rev. P. B. Peabody, in alluding to his observation of the nests of the Tern, says: “Amid this floating sea of aquatic nests I saw an unusual number of well constructed homes of the Tern. Among these was one that I count a perfect nest. It rested on the perfectly flat foundation of a small decayed rat house, which was about fourteen inches in diameter. The nest, in form, is a truncated cone (barring the cavity), was about eight inches high and ten inches in diameter. The hollow—quite shallow—was about seven inches across, being thus unusually large. The whole was built up of bits of rushes, carried to the spot, these being quite uniform in length—about four inches.” After daily observation of the Tern, during which time he added much to his knowledge of the bird, he pertinently asks: “Who shall say how many traits and habits yet unknown may be discovered through patient watching of community-breeding birds, by men enjoying more of leisure for such delightful studies than often falls to the lot of most of us who have bread and butter to earn and a tiny part of the world’s work to finish?”

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) by J Fenton

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) by J Fenton

Lee’s Addition:

The Terns are in the Charadriiformes Order and the Laridae Family is part of that order. Laridaes include Gulls, Terns and Skimmers. The Tern, per se, is not a Gull, but are related and would be close in “kind.” The Birds of the Bible – Sea Gulls gives several articles that have been written here. The Sea Gull is found in the list of unclean birds given in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

the ostrich, the short-eared owl, the sea gull, and the hawk after its kind; (Leviticus 11:16 NKJV)

“The Black Tern, Chlidonias niger, is a small tern generally found in or near inland water in Europe and North America. As its name suggests, it has predominantly dark plumage. Adult are 25 cm (9.75 in) long, with a wing span 6/1 cm (24 in), and weigh 62 g (2.2 oz). They have short dark legs and a short, weak-looking black bill, measuring 27–28 mm, nearly as long as the head. The bill is long, slender, and looks slightly decurved. The North American race, C. n. surinamensis, is distinguishable from the European form in all plumages, and is considered by some to be a separate species.

In flight, the build appears slim. The wing-beats are full and dynamic, and flight is often erratic as it dives to the surface for food; similar to other tern species.

North American Black terns migrate to the coasts of northern South America, some to the open ocean. Old World birds winter in Africa.
Unlike the “white” Sterna terns, these birds do not dive for fish, but forage on the wing picking up items at or near the water’s surface or catching insects in flight. They mainly eat insects and fish as well as amphibians.

The North American population has declined in recent times due to loss of habitat. Point Pelee National Park in Canada boasts a robust population of black terns.” (Wikipedia)

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) by J Fenton

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) by J Fenton


Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 March 1897 No 3 - Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

The above article is an article in the monthly serial for March 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – The Meadowlark

Previous Article – The Return of the Birds

Wordless Birds


All About Birds – Black Tern

Black Tern with eggs at nest photo – ARKive

Black Tern – Wikipedia

Ad in the Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Ad in the Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897


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