American Birding Podcast



#ABArare – Whiskered Tern – New Jersey

With all the excellent birds in Alaska recently, you might be forgiven for thinking the birding elsewhere is just ho-hum. But you’d be wrong, as just this afternoon, Louise Zemaitis and Alec Humann spotted an ABA Code 5 Whiskered Tern from the hawkwatch platform at Cape May Point State Park in Cape May County, New Jersey. This is third record for the ABA Area, the previous two of which also came, at least originally in the case of one, from Cape May. WHTE NJ

WHTE NJ 2Both photos by Mike Crewe, used with permission. Additional photos available at View from the Cape

Cape May Point State Park, and the hawkwatch platform in particular, is one of the most well-known and well-trod birding locations in the ABA Area, a near mecca for North American birding. For those who may not know, however, the park is located off the southern end of the Garden State Parkway. Drive towards Cape May Point on Sunset Ave. make a left on Lighthouse Avenue and go about a mile or so to Cape May Point State Park on the left. The hawkwatch platform will be on the far left hand side as you enter the parking area. The park and platform are free and open to the public.

Whiskered Tern breeds across Eurasia and has occurred in the ABA Area two times previously. Both sightings were originally made at Cape May, New Jersey. The first, an adult in July 1993, was found at Cape May where it spent a few days before crossing the bay to Kent County, Delaware, where it spent just over a month at a collection of impoundments to August 1993 (this bird was joined, interestingly, by a White-winged Tern). The second, an adult in August 1998, was present for only a few days at Cape May.

Howell, et al, in Rare Birds of North America suggest that given the long lifespan of terns it’s possible that both the 1993 and the 1998 bird refer to one individual that could have attached to a flock of Black or Common Terns migrating to North America. A handful of records of the species in the eastern Caribbean would seem to back up this theory. A bird could be easily missed going northbound in spring and observed on the more leisurely southbound trek at a spot where terns congregate, such as Cape May. This as opposed to a direct over-water route from Europe to the Mid-Atlantic. Either are plausible, however, and guesses as to exactly how this bird came to be in North America is mere speculation.


Howell, Steve N. G., Ian Lewington, and Will Russell. 2014. Rare Birds of North America: Princeton UP.