The Sooty Tern nests mainly in tropical and subtropical islands in the Caribbean, Hawaiian Archipelago, the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida, and on islands off most Central American countries. However, for the last several years variable numbers (from 0- 794) of adults have been noted on Texas Colonial Waterbird Society (TCWS) surveys. However, only 25 or fewer nests were recorded from 2000 to 2011. The highest number for nests recorded for the entire span of the TCWS is 147 in 1988.
Sooty Terns once bred on practically every island group in the Tropics, but is now extirpated from many due to alteration of habitat, persecution by humans, and the introduction of predators into colonies. The Texas Breeding Bird Atlas project recorded 24 confirmed breeding sites for Sooty Terns from 1987-1992, with most preferring to nest in small colonies above flood tides in flat, sparsely vegetated and fairly open areas. Once nesting as far north as Galveston Island, the species is now restricted to the central and lower coasts where they are considered rare and local. Foraging habitat is the open ocean where terns can easily catch small fish close to the surface or fish leaping into the air to escape large predatory species. During breeding season, highly variable foraging ranges have been recorded within 80 km (highest densities), 120km and occasionally 200km from the colony.
- Schreiber et al. 2002
- TCWS 2011
- Tweit 2009
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