common tern


: a widely-distributed, medium-sized tern (Sterna hirundo) with a white, deeply forked tail and during the breeding season a black cap, orange-red black-tipped bill, and orange-red feet
Roseate terns can be differentiated from common terns by their lighter gray backs and wings, longer outer tail feathers that extend past wing tips when sitting, longer, red-orange legs, and, at the beginning of the breeding season, by their black bills.Paul E. Kandarian, The Boston Globe, 29 Sept. 2002

Word History

First Known Use

1785, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of common tern was in 1785

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Cite this Entry

“Common tern.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 May. 2024.

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