I observed these birds in Saint Petersburg, Russia this June, mainly in the evening when the sun was setting. They are similar to seagulls and often fly (presumably hunting) at the same location as the seagulls.

Easily noticeable differences from seagulls are:

  1. Forked tail, like swifts have
  2. Narrower wings, which seem longer
  3. Higher-pitched short tweets, which never turn into "laughter". A sample (with car noise in background) can be heard here.

Here are some photos I could took. They are blurred and chromatically aberrated because it's hard to focus with a telephoto lens and such fast motion towards and away from me. I exposure-compensated them to make the colors visible, so the photos are a bit noisy. I hope they are useful for identification anyway.

  • $\begingroup$ It would be helpful if you could edit in data about size (e.g. by comparing them to the size of birds at the same hight that you can identify). At very least that would allow you to rule in or out the little tern, which is about 2/3 the size of the other reasonable candidates. $\endgroup$
    – tyersome
    Jul 2, 2021 at 21:09

1 Answer 1


This is one of the numerous species of tern. They are common birds of the seashore and rivers world-wide. The characteristic forked tail and the black cap on the head is what gives it away.

It is hard to say for sure given the chromatic aberration altering the colours, but this is likely to be either from the genus Sterna (particularly the Arctic tern or the common tern), or possibly the little tern (Sternula hirundo).

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Looks like an arctic tern. The translucent wing feathers are easier to see in this out-of-the-cam photo without exposure compensation. $\endgroup$
    – Ruslan
    Jul 2, 2021 at 7:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Ruslan Seems most likely given you were in northern Russia, and the others seem to be in more temperate ranges. $\endgroup$ Jul 2, 2021 at 13:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Gull + a forked tail" = "tern". It's hard to tell from your pictures, but: Common tern: red bill with black tip. Arctic tern: red bill with no black tip. Roseate tern (rare): black bill. Sandwich tern: black bill with yellow tip. Little tern (which is really small compared with the others): yellow bill with black tip: Most juvenile birds (of all species) have black or gray bills. $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Jul 2, 2021 at 15:32

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