Courtesy Kenn Kaufman
Widespread but very local, and rarely seen inland, Roseate Terns are found on all continents but Antarctica. In North America, they nest only along the Atlantic coast, mainly in the northeast and Florida. They winter in northeastern South America and Brazil.
A legend for the range map to the right can be found here.
Roseate Terns forage in coastal waters, and nest on islands and ocean coasts, favoring protected areas and warmer water. Flat rocky or sandy areas on islands and beaches, and other sparsely vegetated, open ground areas are typical breeding habitat.
Roseate Terns live mostly on small fish, such as sand lance, hake, and herring in the northeast, patrolling above water, then plunging to catch fish below surface. They occasionally eat crustaceans as well
Roseate Terns nest and breed in colonies, often alongside other terns. While they compete with Common Terns for both food and nesting sites, Roseate Terns benefit from the Common Terns' aggressive colony defense. Three-year old Roseate Terns begin performing aerial courtship displays, and males feed females on the ground. Their nests are shallow scrapes in bare sand or gravel, often lined with debris. Unlike Common Terns which usually nest in exposed sites, Roseate Terns often hide their nests under the protective cover of rocks, vegetation, or washed-up debris. At Connecticut's Falkner Island colony, terns using protected nest sites created by the research staff have higher reproductive success than those using less-protected, naturally occurring sites.
Roseate Terns usually lay 2 cream-colored eggs, marked with dark blotches. Both sexes incubate the eggs and care for the young. The chicks hatch about three and a half weeks later, able to walk, with their eyes open. They may leave the nest to seek better shelter several days later. They begin to fly, at about 4 weeks of age, and may remain with their parents for about 2 months.
Roseate Terns migrate along the coast or out to sea, leaving North America in winter for the Caribbean and northern coast of South America. Birds younger than 3 may remain on their wintering grounds.