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Terns
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Greater Crested Tern
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Infradiviso: Passerae
Clade: Gruae
Clade: Gruimorphae
Order: Charadriiformes
Suborder: Lari
Family: Laridae
Subfamily: Sterninae
Bonaparte, 1838

Terns are seabirds in the family Sternidae, previously considered a subfamily (Sterninae) of the gull family Laridae (van Tuinen et al., 2004). They form a lineage with the gulls and skimmers which in turn is related to skuas and auks. Terns have a worldwide distribution.

Most terns were formerly treated as belonging to one large genus Sterna, with the other genera being small. However analysis of DNA sequences supports the splitting of Sterna into several smaller genera (see list, below) (del Hoyo et al., 1996; Bridge et al., 2005; Collinson 2006).

Biology and habits

Many terns breeding in temperate zones are long-distance migrants, and the Arctic Tern probably sees more daylight than any other creature, as it migrates from its northern breeding grounds to Antarctic waters.[1] One Arctic Tern, ringed as a chick (not yet able to fly) on the Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast in eastern Great Britain in summer 1982, reached Melbourne, Australia in October 1982, a sea journey of over 22,000 km (14,000 statute miles) in just three months from fledging—an average of over 240 km per day, and one of the longest journeys ever recorded for a bird.

They are, in general, medium to large birds, typically with grey or white plumage, often with black markings on the head. They have longish bills and webbed feet. They are lighter bodied and more streamlined than gulls, and look elegant in flight with long tails and long narrow wings.[1] Terns in the genus Sterna have deeply forked tails, those in Chlidonias and Larosterna shallowly forked tails, while the noddies (genera Anous, Procelsterna, Gygis) have unusual 'notched wedge' shaped tails, the longest tail feathers being the middle-outer, not the central nor the outermost. Terns ranges in size from the Least Tern, at 42 g (1.5 oz) and 23 cm (9 inches), to the Caspian Tern, at 630 g (1.4 lbs) and 53 cm (21 inches). They make harsh, single-note calls.

Most terns (Sterna and the noddies) hunt fish by diving, often hovering first, but the marsh terns (Chlidonias) pick insects of the surface of fresh water. Terns only glide infrequently; a few species, notably Sooty Tern, will soar high above the sea. Apart from bathing, they only rarely swim, despite having webbed feet.

Terns generally nest in large, densely packed colonies (an exception to this is the White Tern). Depending on the species and habitat, the nests may consist of unlined scrapes in the ground, or of flimsy collections of sticks on trees or floating vegetation.[1] Terns are generally long-lived birds, with several species now known to live in excess of 25–30 years.

Classification and species list

A recent study (Thomas et al., 2004) of part of the cyt b gene sequence found a closer relationship between terns and the Thinocori, some species of aberrant waders. These results are in disagreement with other molecular and morphological studies (see Paton & Baker, 2006) and are best interpreted to prove an extraordinary amount of molecular convergent evolution between the terns and these waders, or as retention of an ancient genotype.

According the mtDNA studies and review by Bridge et al. (2005), the genera and species of terns are as follows:

  • Genus Hydroprogne - Caspian Tern
File:Gull billed Tern I IMG 9309.jpg
  • Genus Larosterna - Inca Tern
File:Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybridus) in Kolleru, AP W IMG 3911.jpg
File:River Tern (Sterna aurantia)- Adult & Immature W IMG 9721.jpg

Gallery

See also

Unusual Seabird Breeding Behavior

References

  1. ^ a b c Harrison, Colin J.O. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph, ed. Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. pp. 110–112. ISBN 1-85391-186-0. 
  • Bridge, E. S.; Jones, A. W. & Baker, A. J. (2005): A phylogenetic framework for the terns (Sternini) inferred from mtDNA sequences: implications for taxonomy and plumage evolution. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 35: 459–469. PDF fulltext
  • Collinson, M. (2006). Splitting headaches? Recent taxonomic changes affecting the British and Western Palaearctic lists. British Birds 99 (6): 306-323.
  • Paton, Tara A. & Baker, Allan J. (2006): Sequences from 14 mitochondrial genes provide a well-supported phylogeny of the Charadriiform birds congruent with the nuclear RAG-1 tree. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 39(3): 657–667. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2006.01.011 (HTML abstract)
  • Thomas, Gavin H.; Wills, Matthew A. & Székely, Tamás (2004a): Phylogeny of shorebirds, gulls, and alcids (Aves: Charadrii) from the cytochrome-b gene: parsimony, Bayesian inference, minimum evolution, and quartet puzzling. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 30(3): 516-526. doi:10.1016/S1055-7903(03)00222-7 (HTML abstract)
  • van Tuinen, Marcel; Waterhouse, David M & Dyke, Gareth J. (2004): Avian molecular systematics on the rebound: a fresh look at modern shorebird phylogenetic relationships. Journal of Avian Biology 35(3): 191-194. PDF fulltext

External links


Accipiter striatusDO1908P02CA This article is part of Project Bird Subfamilies, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on each bird subfamily, including made-up families.
Hemipus picatus This article is part of Project Bird Taxonomy, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on every order, family and other taxonomic rank related to birds.

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