Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 11-2001

Common name:

Least Tern

Scientific name: Sterna antillarum
Date: July 22, 2001
Time: ~10:00am
Length of time observed: 20 minutes
Number: 1
Age: Adult
Sex: n/a
Location: About 1/4 mile South of the Geneva Cooling Ponds, south of Lindon Marina on Utah Lake
County: Utah
Latilong: 6
Elevation: Unknown
Distance to bird: 20 to 25 yards
Optical equipment:  
Weather: Clear, sunny
Light Conditions: Bright sunlight
Detailed description of bird: Small tern (much smaller than the Forster's and Common Terns nearby)
Completely orangish-yellow bill (did not see the black tip described in the National Geographic Guide)
Orangish-yellow legs
Black cap and nape, with black line from bill to behind the eye where it met the black cap
White forehead patch
Pale gray mantle and wings
Tips of primaries dark (observed while bird rested on sandbar)
White underparts (throat, breast, belly, and undertail)
Forked tail (observed while bird was preening)
Song or call & method of delivery: n/a
Behavior: We first observed the bird floating in shallow water near a small sandbar. Then, it flew a few feet to rest on the sandbar near a Forster's and a Common Tern. Periodically it flapped its wings, and it spent 5-7 minutes preening. It flew once low over the water in a tight circle and almost immediately landed back in the approximate same spot on the sandbar--total flight time about 10 seconds. It was undisturbed when twice another tern flew very close above the bird to land on the sandbar nearby. It spent most of the time sitting quietly on the sandbar.
Habitat: Unvegetated sandbar about 15 feet from the sandy lakeshore.
Similar species and
how were they eliminated:
The small size of this bird immediately set it apart from the nearby Forster's and Common Terns as well as any of the larger terns such as Caspian. The Black Tern does not have a white forehead trimmed in black in any plumage. Other small terns such as the Bridled and Sooty Terns do have white forehead patches, but their wings and mantle are very dark.
Previous experience with this & similar species: We have seen quite a few Least Terns in southern California, and in Texas.

Also, in 1997 (on May 26) we observed a reported (but apparently undocumented) Least Tern in Utah. This bird was seen in Farmington at the ponds at the end of Glover Lane, and we believe that Dennis Shirley(?) was the person who initially found the bird and reported it to the Utah Bird Line. We also sighted another (or possibly the same?) undocumented Least Tern in Utah in 1997on October 4. This bird flew in front of our vehicle as we were driving on the north end of the west dike road at Farmington Bay WMA.

References consulted: The Sibley Guide to Birds
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America
Description from: From Memory
Observer:  Joel and Kathy Beyer
Observer's address: 1719 Hillcrest Avenue,  Salt Lake City, Utah   84106
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified
this bird:
None that we know of.
Date prepared: July 24, 2001
Additional material:  

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