The Black tern is a small pigeon sized bird with a black head, neck and underparts.

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)

The Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) is a small, pigeon-sized tern whose breeding plumage is unmistakable with a black head, neck and underparts. It also has medium-grey back, wings and tail, as well as a short notched tail. It is a long-distance migrant that returns to Ontario in early May to breed and departs by early September to wintering areas along the coasts of northern South America and western Central America. It nests in large freshwater marshes with emergent vegetation interspersed with open water but will use smaller wetlands with the same features. The Black Tern is found in scattered locations across the province, north to Big Trout Lake and Fort Albany. The highest densities occur along the lower Great Lakes coastlines, Bruce Peninsula, Manitoulin Island and the southern edge of the Canadian Shield.

Special concern in Ontario

The protection and management of species of special concern is a key part of protecting Ontario’s biodiversity. Biodiversity – the variety of life on Earth – provides us with clean air and water, food, fibre, medicine and other resources that we need to survive. The Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) is the Government of Ontario’s legislative commitment to protecting and managing species of special concern and their habitats. A species is classified as special concern if it lives in the wild in Ontario, is not endangered or threatened, but may become threatened or endangered due to a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.

Government Response Statements

The management plan for Black Tern was completed on June 28, 2013. Management plans are prepared for the Government of Ontario based on the current scientific knowledge for each species and identify approaches for the management of species of special concern.

This response statement is the government’s policy response (subsection 12 (5) of the ESA) to the possible actions identified in the management plan. The response statement summarizes the actions that the Government of Ontario intends to take in response to the management plan and the government priorities in taking those actions. The response also reflects the best available knowledge at this time and may be modified if new information becomes available.

Moving forward to protect and manage west black tern

Black Tern is listed as a species of special concern under the ESA. Breeding Bird Surveys show provincewide and continent-wide declines since 1960. Currently, the Black Tern is listed as endangered in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, special concern in Michigan and imperiled in Wisconsin. It is under review in Minnesota. Along with problems of low population density in the province, the species faces uncertainty due to the combined threats of habitat loss, invasive species and increased pressure from human population growth and climate change.

Wetlands are threatened by development and there is a lack of suitable nesting habitat in remaining wetlands, as populations continue to decline. Increasing numbers of invasive species, particularly European Common Reed Grass (Phragmites australis), European Frog-bit (Hyrocharis morsus-ranae), Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio) and Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), are associated with declining Black Tern populations and can affect wetland structure, reducing suitability for terns. Climate change models predict that the Black Tern will be extirpated, or nearly so, in adjacent northeastern United States due to changes in current breeding habitat and similar changes may be expected in Ontario.

Management goal

The Government of Ontario’s goal for the management of Black Tern is to maintain or improve its distribution and abundance.

Management objectives and actions

Protecting and recovering species at risk is a shared responsibility. No single agency or organization has the knowledge, authority or financial resources to protect and recover all of Ontario’s species at risk. Successful recovery requires inter-governmental co-operation and the involvement of many individuals, organizations and communities.

In developing the government response statement, the Ministry considered what actions are feasible for the government to lead directly and what actions are feasible for the government to support its conservation partners to undertake. Government-led actions are those that the government will directly undertake to protect and manage the species. Governmentsupported actions are those that are endorsed by the government as being necessary for the protection and management of the species. Support for conservation agencies, municipalities, industry partners and Aboriginal communities to undertake actions will be provided where appropriate through funding, and advisory services.

Focus area: Inventory and monitoring

Objective: Improve understanding of the distribution and abundance of Black Tern populations in Ontario.

Government-led management actions

  • Encourage the submission of Black Tern data to the Ministry’s central repository at the Natural Heritage Information Centre.

Government-supported management actions

  1. Address gaps in current known range in cooperation with volunteer monitoring programs to better assess the population size and distribution.
    Priority: High
  2. Monitor known populations including an assessment of their viability and identification of threats such as: habitat degradation, water level control mechanisms, invasive species and human disturbance.
    Priority: High

Focus area: Protection and management

Objective: Maintain the distribution and abundance of the Black Tern in Ontario by protecting habitat and reducing the impacts of threats.

Government-led management actions

  • Continue to implement protection for species of special concern and their habitat through management planning processes, including planning for provincial parks and forest management on crown land.
  • Encourage municipalities to identify habitat of Black Tern as significant wildlife habitat under the Provincial Policy Statement.
  • Continue to implement the Ontario Invasive Species Strategic Plan to address the invasive species that threaten Black Tern.
  • Encourage planning and environmental authorities to consider the conservation of Black Tern in management planning and decision making.

Government-supported management actions

  1. Identify priority Black Tern sites and the conservation and management of habitat at these sites (e.g., water level manipulation, use of artificial nests or enclosures when demonstrated to be effective, and removal of invasive species).
    Priority: High

Focus area: Research

Objective: Clarify the main threats to Black Tern populations.

Government-supported management actions

  1. Conduct research to help understand the factors that influence breeding success including consideration of the impacts of water level fluctuations and invasive species.
    Priority: Medium
  2. Conduct research into understanding migration and wintering areas and associated threats for Ontario’s population.
    Priority: Low

Focus area: Awareness and stewardship

Objective: Increase awareness of the conservation status and stewardship opportunities to meet the needs of Black Tern in Ontario.

Government-led management actions

  • Undertake communications and outreach to increase public awareness of species at risk in Ontario. government-supported management actions

Government-supported management actions

  1. Develop and distribute educational material to inform land managers, land owners and the general public about the Black Tern, threats to its survival, and actions that can be taken to minimize impacts on the species.
    Priority: Medium
  2. Collaborate on efforts to develop and implement best management practices that are compatible with the needs of Black Tern and other wetland species.
    Priority: Medium
  3. Collaborate on efforts to develop and implement best management practices that are compatible with the needs of Black Tern and other wetland species.
    Priority: Low

Implementing actions

Financial support for the implementation of actions may be available through the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, Species at Risk Research Fund for Ontario, and the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program. Conservation partners are encouraged to discuss project proposals related to the actions in this response statement with the Ministry of Natural Resources.

Implementation of the actions may be subject to changing priorities across the multitude of species at risk, available resources and the capacity of partners to undertake recovery activities. Where appropriate, the implementation of actions for multiple species will be co-ordinated across government response statements.


We would like to thank all those who participated in the development of the “Management Plan for Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) in Ontario” for their dedication to protecting and managing species of special concern.

For additional information

Visit the species at risk website
Contact the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks
Toll-free: 1-800-565-4923
TTY: 1-855-515-2759