17 Amaze-wing Facts About The Gull-Billed Tern For Kids

Discover fascinating gull-billed terns facts.

The gull-billed tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) is a species of bird that is native to North America. They mainly live around salt marshes, coastal areas, and mudflats and thrive in large colonies. They are named after their stout bill and are usually of beautiful pale silver and white color. This bird belongs to the order Charadriiformes, family Laridae, and genus Gelochelidon.

Their diet can range from insects, crabs, and mollusks to fishes acquired from the surface of the water. Gull-billed terns are also known to have the least tern-like features, as they refuse to swoop into water to catch fish.

During the nesting months, male and female tern birds undergo a brief period of courting, during which they impress each other with postures and head bending. They build their nests out of mud and scraps and share the responsibilities of their young off-springs till they reach an age of about three months.

They are migratory birds which means they travel towards warmer areas during the winter season. While these birds are found in dense concentrations around North America, they can also be found in Australia and Asia.

If you liked reading about gull-billed terns, you should definitely check out our articles on the laughing gull and Atlantic puffin.

Gull-Billed Tern

Fact File

What do they prey on?

Insects, crabs, fish, and lizards

What do they eat?


Average litter size?


How much do they weigh?

0.3-0.6 lb (150-292 g)

How long are they?

13-17 in (33-42 cm)

How tall are they?


What do they look like?

Pale silver, gray, white, and brown spots

Skin Type


What are their main threats?

Climate change

What is their conservation status?

Least Concern

Where you'll find them

Salt marshes and coasts


North America, Australia, and New Zealand





Scientific Name

Gelochelidon nilotica





Gull-Billed Tern Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a gull-billed tern?

The gull-billed tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) is a species of tern that is predominantly found in North America, although they can be spotted in almost all parts of the world. This variety of birds is known to show features and behaviors that are not typical of terns.

What class of animal does a gull-billed tern belong to?

This beautiful creature is a bird and belongs to the class of Aves. These North American birds exhibit all features of the class like a feathered body, wings, hind legs that facilitate walking, and oviparity. This bird belongs to the order Charadriiformes, family Laridae, and genus Gelochelidon. The scientific name is Gelochelidon nilotica.

How many gull-billed terns are there in the world?

Since the species is so widespread across the globe, no conclusive numbers are available regarding their population. Their conservation status and breeding patterns also suggest that this member from the family of terns will live a long life on earth.

Where does a gull-billed tern live?

If you happen to be somewhere around a salt marsh in the summer season, you are likely to spot a few gull-billed terns. While marshy lands are their home of choice, you can also find these birds in coastal regions mainly due to migration and climate change. They are also very adaptive and can even be sighted at sewage sites, stagnant floodwaters, and mudflats.

What is a gull-billed tern's habitat?

The gull-billed tern's habitat is widespread. While the population is concentrated in North America, you are likely to come across them in pretty much any continent. During the winter months, these North American birds migrate towards coastal regions such as Florida and Texas.

Who do gull-billed terns live with?

Gelochelidon nilotica is a colonial species which means that they can be seen to settle in colonies with more of their own kind. They are also very aggressive when it comes to protecting their nests. Apart from this, gull-billed terns are pretty peaceful and do not pose any threat to other animals of similar species.

How long does a gull-billed tern live?

The life expectancy of this species is of about 20 years, when not faced with any drastic issues such as unfavorable climate or other man-made hazards such as pesticides.

How do they reproduce?

Gelochelidon nilotica, like other terns, are oviparous animals and are egg-layers. During the breeding seasons, each female bird lays up to four eggs, and during the incubation period, both parents take care of the eggs. The chicks, after hatching, leave the nest after about five days and are taken care of by the parents for as long as three months.

What is their conservation status?

The conservation status of Gelochelidon nilotica is said to be of Least Concern which means that their life on earth is not facing any immediate threat. However, some man-made hazards do reduce their life span, and extreme temperature drops during the winter can also harm the breeding cycle of this bird species.

Gull-Billed Tern Fun Facts

What do gull-billed terns look like?

Gelochelidon nilotica, from the family of terns, is said to have features that are least typical of the species. These cute birds are stout and have a rather muscular build. They have strong hind legs that allow them to search the ground on foot for insects, mollusks such as mussels, cockles, limpets, and crustaceans such as crabs. They also have large wings that help in swooping down to water level in order to catch fish from the surface.

These birds are usually of a pale silvery color and have gray or brown spots on their bodies. Their black bill and V-shaped tail makes them easy to identify. They also develop a black cap on their head during winter, which is unlike the family.

The gull-billed tern is named after its large bill and is known to abandon its nest to migrate to coastal regions during the winter season.

How cute are they?

These little birds are very cute. Their sturdy figure compliments the color of their body and gives them an adorable appearance. Their bill sets them apart from the rest of the tern family very easily.

How do they communicate?

Gelochelidon nilotica communicate through a bird-song or sound that is almost uniform to all kinds of terns. Their sound resembles a 'kwek-kyek' and is very high-pitched. Since they are usually found in groups, the volume intensifies.

Other modes of communication that they use are in the form of exquisite displays of postures and head-bending.

How big is a gull-billed tern?

The gull-billed tern can be as long as 17 in (42 cm), and their wings can spread to be around 30-36 in (76.2-91.4 cm). The size is ideal for them to be able to swoop along the ground in fast, confident motions, since the stout build calls for powerful wings.

How fast can a gull-billed tern fly?

While the exact speed of gull-billed terns is not known, similar species such as ring-billed terns can fly at a staggering speed of 40 mph (64.37 kph). Such flight speed is ideal and beneficial for this species because they can easily swoop downwards and catch fish from the surface of the water.

How much does a gull-billed tern weigh?

The weight of these birds can range from 0.3-0.6 lb (150-292 g). Such a weight, in spite of their stout and sturdy body, adds to their ability of fast flight.

What are the male and female names of the species?

While there is a distinction between the two sexes of this species, there are no designated names for male and female gull-billed terns.

What would you call a baby gull-billed tern?

As is typical with birds, a young Gelochelidon nilotica is called a chick.

What do they eat?

The diet of these birds comprises mainly insects. They scour through the ground in search of insects, mollusks, and lizards. In addition to this, they also feed on fish from the surface of the water. They do not, however, swoop into the water in order to catch fish, like other terns do.

Are they dangerous?

It is safe to say that gull-billed terns are of no danger to humans at all. In general, they are peaceful creatures that are spotted during their magnificent flight or in their nest.

Would they make a good pet?

Considering that their habitat is concentrated in marshes and coastal regions, it would be difficult to mimic their ideal living conditions. They would also suffer distress if denied a large colony and the ability to make their own nest. It is best not to keep these birds as pets as they belong to the wild and not cages on the ground.

Did you know...

One of the interesting facts about gull-billed terns is that they develop a black cap during the summer season. Fashionable, right?

What are the threats to the gull-billed tern?

While there are no immediate major threats to their habitat, climate change is said to be one of the factors that can adversely affect the population of Gelochelidon nilotica. The use of pesticides at the sites that they inhabit can also have adverse effects on their life expectancy.

How do gull-billed terns compare with similar birds?

Gull-billed terns differ from other terns because of their stout bill and eating habits. Species such as the least tern have slim bills and swoop underwater in order to catch fish which is very different from our own colonial friends.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other birds from our wigeon facts and puffin facts pages.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable seagull coloring pages.



At Kidadl we pride ourselves on offering families original ideas to make the most of time spent together at home or out and about, wherever you are in the world. We strive to recommend the very best things that are suggested by our community and are things we would do ourselves - our aim is to be the trusted friend to parents.

We try our very best, but cannot guarantee perfection. We will always aim to give you accurate information at the date of publication - however, information does change, so it’s important you do your own research, double-check and make the decision that is right for your family.

Kidadl provides inspiration to entertain and educate your children. We recognise that not all activities and ideas are appropriate and suitable for all children and families or in all circumstances. Our recommended activities are based on age but these are a guide. We recommend that these ideas are used as inspiration, that ideas are undertaken with appropriate adult supervision, and that each adult uses their own discretion and knowledge of their children to consider the safety and suitability.

Kidadl cannot accept liability for the execution of these ideas, and parental supervision is advised at all times, as safety is paramount. Anyone using the information provided by Kidadl does so at their own risk and we can not accept liability if things go wrong.

Sponsorship & Advertising Policy

Kidadl is independent and to make our service free to you the reader we are supported by advertising.

We hope you love our recommendations for products and services! What we suggest is selected independently by the Kidadl team. If you purchase using the buy now button we may earn a small commission. This does not influence our choices. Please note: prices are correct and items are available at the time the article was published.

Kidadl has a number of affiliate partners that we work with including Amazon. Please note that Kidadl is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.

We also link to other websites, but are not responsible for their content.

Read our Sponsorship & Advertising Policy
Get The Kidadl Newsletter

1,000 of inspirational ideas direct to your inbox for things to do with your kids.

Thank you! Your newsletter will be with you soon.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
No items found.
No items found.