Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Bridled Tern - Onychoprion anaethetus
LARIDAE Members:
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General Comments Like the slightly larger Sooty Tern, the Bridled Tern is normally seen in North Carolina by taking a pelagic trip during the warmer months, and typically a few birds are seen on most such trips, particularly in Aug and Sep. It is surprising, given its regularity on most such trips, that confirmation of Bridled Tern in the state remained absent until the 1970's, perhaps because the species simply wasn't being seen along the coast after hurricanes prior to that time. It is possible that the species increased in overall numbers in the 1970's, though there is no increasing trend since then. Like the Sooty Tern, small numbers are seen from shore and inland after hurricanes and tropical storms. Because the two species look somewhat similar in adult and sub-adult plumages, some identifications during storms are difficult in high winds or rain, and many observers have had to be cautious in reporting these species and their numbers under such situations. Unlike the Sooty, Bridled Terns do not nest on the mainland of the United States.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S3N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Pelagic visitor during the warmer seasons. Fairly common offshore in the Gulf Stream (i.e., north to Oregon Inlet), but scarce farther northward; more frequent in Aug and Sep. Along the coast, casual to very rare except after hurricanes and tropical storms, when it may be seen in small numbers. There are a few Tidewater and far inland records, after storms; the only far inland records are of 1 at Lake Auman (Moore), 6-7 Sep 1996 (after Hurricane Fran); 1 at Goldsboro, 27 Aug 1998 (after Hurricane Bonnie); 10 at Lake Waccamaw, 1 Sep 2006 (after Tropical Storm Ernesto); 8 at Buckhorn Reservoir (Wilson), 1 Sep 2006 (after Ernesto); and 3 at Lake Waccamaw, 6 Sep 2008 (after Hurricane Hanna). Main occurrence is from mid-May to early Oct, with a peak from mid-Aug to early Sep; unseasonal records are for 2, off Oregon Inlet, 20 Dec 1984; 1, off Cape Hatteras, 28 Feb 1997 [Chat 63:86 link]. Peak counts: 120, Wrightsville Beach, 5-6 Sep 1979 (after Hurricane David); 111, off Hatteras Inlet, 8 Aug 1999; 100, off Hatteras Inlet, 9 Aug 1998.
Piedmont Storm-carried visitor to the eastern and southern portions of the province; 7 records. Dates range from 6-23 Sep, and all are from Hurricanes Hugo (1989), Fran (1996), Isabel (2003), and Hanna (2008), and Tropical Storm Frances (2004). Peak counts: 4, Jordan Lake, 6-7 Sep 1996; 2, Lake Wylie, 9 Sep 2004.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips To see this species, an offshore trip is normally required. The best time is in late summer from mid-Aug to late Sep. Most trips at these times can expect to see at least a few Bridled Terns; counts of 5 to 20 are typical. Trips in the latter half of May and Jun are iffy for both this species and the Sooty Tern.
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Attribution LeGrand[2012-06-09], LeGrand[2011-12-04], LeGrand[2011-05-07]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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NA Maps
(source NatureServe)

View NatureServe distribution maps for Onychoprion anaethetus