Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2004-

Common name:

Least Tern

Scientific name: Sterna antillarum
Date: April 21, 2004
Time: Approx. 4:30 or 5:00 P.M.
Length of time observed: Off and on for about 5 minutes
Number: 1
Age: Adult
Sex: Unknown
Location: Lee Kay Ponds near the Salt Lake City garbage dump west of SLC
County: Salt Lake
Latilong: ?
Elevation: Approx. 4300 ft.
Distance to bird: Approx. 75 to 100 yards
Optical equipment: Bausch and Lomb spotting scope with zoom lens @ 15-25 x plus 8 x 30 binoculars
Weather: Slightly overcast, but light was sufficient; had rained during the day.
Light Conditions: Sufficient; from the west
Detailed description of bird: When I first saw the bird it was on the ground on a dirt road between two of the ponds.

Head: black cap and nape with a white forehead
Bill: Yellow
Underparts: white
Back: slightly darker than underparts (very light gray)
Legs: didn't see because it was sitting on the dirt.
Flight: When it flew it appeared mostly white with a slightly forked tail. The flight was buoyant, not quite as direct as a Forester's Tern. I did not notice the two black primaries because the flight was of short duration and away from me. It then setteled down along the shore line a greater distance away and didn't fly again while I was there.
Song or call & method of delivery: None heard
Behavior: As mentioned, it sat in the dirt and then flew a short distance and then sat down again.
Habitat: Ponds near a garbage dump.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
Size: I had seen a Forester's Tern just about five minutes before at one of the ponds to the west of where this one was. I was able to mentally compare the size of each and this one was smaller, especially when it flew.
Black Tern: Slightly larger, but during this time of the year it would be mostly black. This Least Tern was mostly white.
Common and Forester's Terns both have black caps; however, they are both larger than this one was. There is no white in the foreheads of
these two terns and their bills are red. This gull that we observed had a distinctly yellow-colored bill.
The Aleutian Gull has a black cap and a white forehead, but the bill is black. Besides, the range is another matter.
Caspian Tern is much larger with a blood red bill.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
I have seen all the species I listed above. Saw the Least Tern in two places in Utah last year.
References consulted: Sibley's Field Guide to Western Birds and National Geographic's Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 3rd Ed.
Description from: From: From memory
Observer: Merrill Webb
Observer's address: 1063 East 400 North Orem, Utah 84097
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified this bird: Bruce Robinson and a married couple from SLC whose names (I think) were Cindy and Steve. Not sure of last name.
Date prepared: April 23, 2004  (General Public)
Additional material:  
Additional comments: When I pulled up to the site Bruce and the other two had their scope set up on this bird having already located it as it perched (sat) on the ground. Bruce indicated that he had seen the bird the day before, and that this was a similar location to the one he had seen this same species the previous year. It would be interesting to learn if it was the same bird. So, thanks to Bruce and the other two who had already located this bird. I don't know if I would have found it where it was sitting without their help.