Anous minutus, or black noddy, is a seabird from the tern family. It is small with darker plumage, a white cap, a long straight beak and short tail. This species has a worldwide distribution in tropical and subtropical seas, with colonies widespread in the Pacific Ocean and more scattered across the Caribbean, central Atlantic and in the northeast Indian Ocean. Birds return to colonies, or other islands, in order to roost at night.
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Transient
Black noddies are found in the marine tropics and subtropics. They have a circum-equatorial distribution, being found in tropical and subtropical areas of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans and the Caribbean Sea. Throughout their range black noddies are primarily found near breeding islands, where they are resident throughout the year, although some long-distance movements of individuals occurs. They are most common within about 80 km of breeding islands. In the Americas they are found on islands off the coasts of Central and South America. In the Atlantic and Indian Oceans they are found on Ascension, St. Helena, and Gulf of Guinea Islands, as well as Ashmore reef off the northwest coast of Australia. In the Pacific Ocean they are found mainly in the southwest and central Pacific, including the Hawaiian archipelago, Johnston Atoll, Marcus and Wake Islands, islands off the coast of the Philippines, New Guinea, and northeastern Australia, Lord Howe, Norfolk, Philip, and Kermadec Islands, the Mariana Islands, Palau, Caroline Islands, Marshall Islands, Bismarck Archipelago, New Caledonia, Nauru, Gilbert Islands, Tuvalu, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Cook Islands, Tokelau, Phoenix Islands, Line Islands, Austral Islands, Society Islands, Tuamotu Archipelago, and the Marquesas Islands.
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native ); australian (Native ); oceanic islands (Native ); indian ocean (Native ); atlantic ocean (Native ); pacific ocean (Native )
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) BREEDING: islands of tropical Pacific and Atlantic oceans; off coast of Middle America on Clipperton Island and Cocos Island, and off Belize (at least formerly) and Venezuela in Caribbean region (van Halewyn and Norton 1984). NON-BREEDING: at sea in vicinity of breeding areas.
Black noddies are medium-sized terns with uniformly dark, sooty plumage and a white cap, the reverse of the common tern color pattern. The white cap blends gradually into the grey of the body. They measure 35 to 40 cm in length, 65 to 72 cm in wingspan, and weigh from 85 to 140 grams. They have small, white markings on the lower and upper rims of their eyelids. The bill is black and the legs and feet are reddish-brown to orange. The mouth lining and tongue is orange-yellow in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands and Atlantic populations, yellow in Caribbean Islands, and the mouth lining is pink and the tongue yellow in Australia. The tail is 105 to 130 mm and is wedge-shaped with a central notch. Males and females are similar, juveniles are also similar, but are slightly more pale in color and the white cap is sharply differentiated from the gray body plumage.
There is some slight geographic variation in size, plumage color, and foot color of black noddies. Seven subspecies are recognized: A. m. americanus (Caribbean populations), A. m. atlanticus (tropical Atlantic), A. m. diamesus (Clipperton and Cocos Islands), A. m. melanogenys (main island of Hawaii, also called the "light phase" form), A. m. marcusi (northwest Pacific, including northwestern Hawaiian islands, also called the "dark phase" form), A. m. worcesteri (Sulu and Java seas), and A. m. minutus (Flores Sea and southwestern Pacific).
Black noddies are considered conspecific with their close relatives, lesser noddies (Anous tenuirostris), by some authors. Under this classification scheme the two species are known as white-capped noddies, A. tenuirostris. However, black noddies are distinguishable from lesser noddies by size, plumage color, and wing quill formula, as well as their separate nesting habits.
Black noddy basal metabolic rate has been estimated at 54.8 kj/d. Mean oxygen consumption is 1.28 cubic centimeters/g/hr. Mean daytime body temperature of adults while incubating is 39.5 to 41.9 degrees Celsius (in shade and sun, respectively).
Range mass: 85 to 140 g.
Range length: 35 to 40 cm.
Range wingspan: 65 to 72 cm.
Average basal metabolic rate: 1.28 cm3.O2/g/hr.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike
Length: 38 cm
Black noddies are found on tropical and subtropical oceanic islands, from sandy atolls to rocky islands. Black noddies are the only marine terns (Sterninae) that build large nests and one of the only tree or shrub-nesting tern species. They nest and roost mainly in vegetation, although nests on coastal cliffs and in caves are common in the Hawaiian Islands, Clipperton Island, and in islands in their Atlantic range. A wide variety of vegetation types are used for nesting and roosting. Nests are usually constructed in forests dominated by Pisonia grandis trees, ironwood (Casuarina equisetifolia), mangroves (Avicennia and Rhizophora), and coastal shrubs (naupaka Scaevola sericea, tree heliotrope Tournefortia argentea). Black noddies forage in nearshore, warm-water areas during breeding and non-breeding seasons. During long distance movements or migrations they fly over large expanses of open water. Closely related brown noddies (Anous stolidus) are often found one the same islands in similar habitats, but nest mainly on the ground.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial ; saltwater or marine
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; forest ; scrub forest
Aquatic Biomes: coastal
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Primarily pelagic (AOU 1983). Inshore species that often feeds over lagoons or coastal ponds (Pratt et al. 1987). Forages at sea, usually fairly close to breeding islands but sometimes many miles out (Stiles and Skutch 1989). Nests on rocky sea cliff or on island in tree or shrub (horizontal limb of tall open tree in Costa Rica; Stiles and Skutch 1989).
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Black noddies eat a wide variety of prey and are opportunistic predators. Their diet is mainly made up of small fish, squid, and crustaceans. The composition of the diet varies substantially with the region and seasonal abundance of prey. Prey are typically small, averaging 34 mm in length, fish prey averaged 19 to 64 mm in length. Analysis of regurgitated food for young suggest that fish are the dominant prey. Black noddies take prey from the ocean surface in nearshore areas, including lagoons, bays, and brackish coastal ponds. Most individuals are observed foraging within 10 km of breeding or roosting islands. Unlike most terns, black noddies do not dive for their prey. Instead they skim or dip at the surface or sometimes briefly land on the water to grab prey. They eat prey immediately and do not carry prey in their bills, which is consistent with their habit of regurgitating food for young. Black noddies typically forage in large, mixed-species flocks over schools of foraging predatory fish, such as tunas (Scombridae) or jacks (Caranx). In the Hawaiian islands black noddies forage over schools of skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) 75% of the time and target the same prey fish and size of fish. They typically leave colonies in the morning and return in the evening, although night-time foraging has also been suggested.
Animal Foods: fish; mollusks; aquatic crustaceans
Primary Diet: carnivore (Piscivore )
Black noddies are parasitized by chewing lice (Quadraceps hopkinsi). Black noddies are often seen "sunning" themselves: holding their wings spread in direct sunlight. It has been demonstrated that this behavior kills chewing lice and helps to control parasite loads. Feather lice on black noddies include Actornithophilus ceruleus, Actornithophilus incisus, Austromenopon species, and Saemundssonia species. Other ectoparasites include feather mites (Larinyssus orbicularis), chiggers (Guntheria domrowi and Neoschoengastia ewingi), hippoboscid flies (Ornithocia and Alfersia aenescens), and ticks. Argasid ticks (Carios maritimus) are found in nests (average 159 per nest). These ticks which carry arboviruses that cause encephalitis. Antibodies to arboviruses have been detected in black noddy populations as well as antibodies to human influenza and Newcastle Disease. Unexplained periodic epidemics seem to cause high levels of mortality in some populations. Nematode parasites (Contracaecum magnipapillatum) and two species of kidney flukes (Renicola foliata and Renicola caudescens) are known endoparasites.
Black noddy nesting colonies result in significant additions of nutrients to the soils where they nest. Black noddies nesting on Heron Island, in the Great Barrier Reef, are estimated to add 45 tons per year of guano to the soil. This effectively transfers about 1.4 tons per year of phosphorus from the surrounding ocean waters to the terrestrial ecosystem, influencing vegetation communities on nesting islands. Guano deposits also add significant amounts of nitrogen, potassium, and magnesium to soils.
- chewing lice (Quadraceps hopkinsi)
- feather lice (Actornithophilus ceruleus)
- feather lice (Actornithophilus incisus)
- feather lice (Austromenopon species)
- feather lice (Saemundssonia species)
- feather mites (Larinyssus orbicularis)
- chiggers (Guntheria domrowi)
- chiggers (Neoschoengastia ewingi)
- hippoboscid flies (Ornithocia)
- hippoboscis flies (Alfersia aenescens)
- argasid ticks (Carios maritimus)
- nematode parasites (Contracaecum magnipapillatum)
- kidney flukes (Renicola foliata)
- kidney flukes (Renicola caudescens)
Predators of black noddies vary regionally because of their large, circum-equatorial range. Most predators are avian, as nesting and roosting islands typically lack native mammalian predators. However, introduced predators are a serious threat in many areas. Introduced mammalian predators include feral cats (Felis catus), rats (Rattus), and domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris). These predators have been implicated in the local extinctions of colonies throughout the world. Other introduced predators are common mynas (Acridotheres tristis, Hawaii) and ants (Pheidole megacephala, Tern Island). Recorded native predators are: great frigatebirds (Fregata minor), Laysan finches (Telespyza cantans), bristle-thighed curlews (Numenius tahitiensis), Pacific golden-plovers (Pluvialis fulva), Micronesian starlings (Aplonis opaca), Pacific reef egrets (Egretta sacra), silver gulls (Larus novaehollandiae), white-breasted sea eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster), and Ascension frigatebirds (Fregata aquila). Humans have also been known to prey on black noddies.
Black noddy adults do not readily leave their nests when threatened. Most predators prey on unattended nests and eat eggs and small hatchlings. Black noddies will circle and attack avian predators to drive them away. Pacific reef egrets (Egretta sacra) and white-breasted sea eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster) take adults. Ants in the northwestern Hawaiian islands attack nestlings and feed on the anterior margin of their foot webbing, which doesn't cause death but can negatively affect ability to take off from water later in life.
- great frigatebirds (Fregata minor)
- Ascension frigatebirds (Fregata aquila)
- Laysan finches (Telespyza cantans)
- bristle-thighed curlews (Numenius tahitiensis)
- Pacific golden-plovers (Pluvialis fulva)
- Micronesian starlings (Aplonis opaca)
- reef egrets (Egretta sacra)
- silver gulls (Larus novaehollandiae)
- white-breasted sea eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster)
- feral cats (Felis catus)
- rats (Rattus)
- domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)
- common mynas (Acridotheres tristis)
- ants (Pheidole megacephala)
- humans (Homo sapiens)
Often rests in large rafts on water (Stiles and Skutch 1989). Considerable movement between islands in Hawaii (Berger 1981).
Life History and Behavior
Black noddies use a variety of vocalizations and visual displays to communicate with conspecifics. Young use a begging call to beg for food. Main call types are identified as "chatters," "rattles," and "croaks." Black noddies do not sing and vocalizations don't vary seasonally. Foraging flocks constantly call and calls are common when nesting and roosting. Chatters are typically used in flight and may be a contact call. Rattles are alarm calls. Croaks may be given when an intruder is detected. Black noddies also use bill clacking during visual displays.
Black noddies employ a variety of visual displays to attract mates and in agonistic interactions. Displays include "nodding," "gaping," "foot-looking," "head-shaking," "bridling," "chin-up," and "appeasement." Many of these visual displays are used both in agonistic interactions, as when directed aggressively at an intruder, and in mating interactions. For example, nodding occurs when an intruder is approaching and also when a mate approaches. In the former context it is used to drive the intruder away, in the latter context it is used to greet a mate. Bridling - which involves forward and backward movements of the head, accompanied by opening and closing of the bill - advertises territory ownership to both mates and intruders. Appeasement displays are usually by juveniles, who point their bills downwards to avoid an aggressive interaction. This is similar to foot-looking, which also is used to avoid aggression.
Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Comments: Evidently forages day or night (Stiles and Skutch 1989).
The oldest recorded black noddy was at least 25 years old. Other black noddies have been recorded at over 15 years old. Survivorship in Fiji averaged 75% over 9 years. Significant mortality of eggs and hatchlings occurs when strong winds blow them out of nests or when exposed to cold or heat in the nest. Hatchlings may also starve to death occasionally when stormy weather prevents adult foraging. El Niño Southern Oscillation events have been associated with widespread egg and hatchling abandonment and death. Unexplained periodic epidemics cause widespread mortality in colonies. Adults and young are also sometimes trapped in the sticky fruits of pisonia trees.
Status: wild: 25 (high) years.
Status: wild: 15-20 (high) years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Black noddies form monogamous pair bonds that are long-lasting. In one study 86% of mated pairs remained together through mating seasons. Pairs tend to be made up of birds of similar ages. Courtship behaviors include flying together and a high-flight display in which birds ascend together and then glide at a steep angle back to sea level. Males attract females to a nest site with a "bridling" display - a rhythmic backwards and forwards movement of the head paired with opening and closing of the bill - followed by a "nodding" display in which birds nod their heads forward. Pairs avoid antagonism through the use of the a foot-looking display, where they suddenly look down as if to inspect their feet for several seconds, and gaping displays, where they hold their bills open and pointing downwards to display the colorful tongue and mouth.
Mating System: monogamous
Black noddy pairs stay together throughout the year or come together approximately 2 months before egg-laying. They build or reinforce large, untidy nests in trees (from less than 1 meter to over 20 meters tall) or on cliff ledges or sea caves. Nest sites seem to be selected mainly for their proximity to the breeding colony and even unsuitable nest sites are occupied if they are near other nesting pairs. Nests in trees may be mainly built on the leeward side of the tree for protection against wind. Males collect nesting material and females construct nests. Black noddies defecate at nests, helping to hold nest materials together and enlarging cliff ledges. The timing of breeding varies regionally. In some areas the breeding season is short and regular, in other areas breeding is irregular, and in some areas breeding may occur throughout the year. Within colony islands, the timing of breeding can vary annually as well. On Ascension Island birds breed at 8 to 10 month intervals, so the timing of the breeding season is earlier each year. Some populations have 2 clutches per year, 5 months apart. The timing of breeding may be most influenced by the availability of prey species.
Black noddies lay 1 egg per clutch. Two egg nests are sometimes observed, but these are thought to be eggs that have rolled or fallen from adjacent nests. Eggs are large (23.7 to 25.2 g), oval, and buffy marked with spots and streaks of reddish brown. If an egg fails or is lost, a replacement egg is laid. Black noddies may even lay replacement eggs after the loss of nearly fledged young. Incubation begins immediately after egg-laying and lasts for about 34 days. Both males and females incubate the eggs, leaving for only about a minute at a time. In cold weather they sit on the egg and in hot conditions they may wet their ventral feathers to help cool the egg. Young fledge in 39 to 52 days, depending on the availability of prey. Development may be prolonged by periods of low prey availability. Although weight gain and morphological development slows during such periods, this does not seem to result in juvenile mortality. This may be an adaptation to unpredictable resources. Fledglings remain near their parents for up to 17 weeks after fledging, although they roost with other juveniles during that time. Black noddies may breed as early as 2 years old, although 3 years is more typical.
In artificially enlarged broods, black noddy parents were able to successfully compensate for the nutritional demands of additional young. Enlarged broods did not apparently adversely impact nestling development or survival. However, the nutritional stress associated with enlarged broods resulted in slowed wing and feather development. Broods with differences in ages of the nestlings, however, experienced more competition between nestlings for food, with younger nestlings not able to compete as well as older nestlings.
Breeding interval: Black noddies can breed from every 5 months to once yearly. A maximum of 3 clutches per year has been estimated, although 1 successful clutch per year is typical.
Breeding season: Breeding season in black noddies varies regionally and may depend on the peak seasonal availability of prey. Some populations breed throughout the year, others have a strongly seasonal pattern of breeding.
Range eggs per season: 1 (high) .
Average eggs per season: 1.
Average time to hatching: 34 days.
Range fledging age: 39 to 52 days.
Range time to independence: 116 to 171 days.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2 (low) years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 3 years.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2 (low) years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 3 years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
Males and females incubate, feed, and protect their young. Incubating parents are reluctant to leave the nest when the other parent comes to relieve them. One parent may physically push the other off the nest. Allopreening or feeding behaviors may accompany one parent replacing the other at the nest during incubation. Chicks hatch without help from parents. Young black noddies are semiprecocial; they have downy feathers in the same color pattern as the adult and remain in the nest until they fledge. Hatchlings are brooded and fed by regurgitation by both parents. Chicks are fed about every 1 to 2 hours when young and about every 11 hours when closer to fledging. Young black noddies place their bills in their parent's open mouth and then rapidly open and close their bills to stimulate regurgitation. Adult mass is attained at about 3 weeks after hatching. Hatchlings lose weight in the last week before they fledge but still typically fledge at masses greater than or equal to adult mass. Hatchlings that fall from nests are typically abandoned, although some older hatchlings are fed by their parents on the ground. Adults do not feed hatchlings that aren't recognized as their own. Adults continue to feed young up to 17 weeks after fledging.
Parental Investment: precocial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female)
Nesting season variable in Hawaii, March-September in Costa Rica (Stiles and Skutch 1989). Clutch size is 1. Incubation lasts about 5 weeks. Many may nest in single tree.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Anous minutus
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Anous minutus
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
Black noddies are considered a species of least concern by the IUCN. Nesting populations are apparently mostly stable and population estimates are from 1 to 1.5 million. Humans and introduced mammalian predators have driven some populations to extinction. Human degradation of habitats is a serious threat to nesting and roosting colonies, as nesting trees are cleared. Introduced rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), goats (Capra hircus), and scale insects (Parasaissetia nigra) have seriously degraded native vegetation on many tropical islands. Black noddies seem to tolerate human presence well, if nesting, roosting, and foraging habitats are not degraded. Adults are reluctant to leave nests when approached and can easily be taken in hand when incubating or brooding.
Many black noddy nesting islands are protected and human hunting is illegal in most areas. But laws and their enforcement vary considerably across the black noddy range.
US Migratory Bird Act: protected
US Federal List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNRB - Unranked
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Comments: Egg collecting may have been pricipal cause of disappearance as breeder off Belize (Van Loben Sels and Vitt 1984).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
There are no adverse effects of black noddies on humans.
Black noddy colonies produce huge guano deposits on roosting and breeding islands, impacting local terrestrial and marine ecosystems and resulting in large deposits of harvestable fertilizer and phosphorus.
Positive Impacts: produces fertilizer
The black noddy or white-capped noddy (Anous minutus) is a seabird from the tern family. It is a medium-sized bird with black plumage and a white cap. It resembles the closely related brown or common noddy (A. stolidus), but is smaller with darker plumage, a whiter cap, a longer, straighter beak and shorter tail. It was at one time, and sometimes still is, thought to be identical with this species.
The black noddy is a medium-sized tern with a length of about 37 centimetres (15 in), a wingspan of about 70 centimetres (28 in) and a weight of 98 to 144 grams (3.5 to 5.1 oz). It has black plumage and a whitish cap, a small white crescent under each eye and a white spot above. It has long tapering wings and a truncated tail. The sharply-pointed bill is black as are the feet, which are fully webbed.
These birds may have become known as "noddies" because of the behaviour of both sexes as they constantly dip their heads during their breeding display. They are very tolerant of humans even to the extent that they can be picked up off the nest. They feed on fish and squid which they gather by flying low over the surface of the sea and picking them up. They may associate with other seabirds in areas where predatory fish are driving small fish to the surface.
The nests of these birds consist of a level platform, often created in the branches of trees by a series of dried leaves covered with bird droppings. One egg is laid each season, and nests are re-used in subsequent years. The trees used for this purpose are various but the Pisonia is most often used, and in large trees, there are often several nests. The guano produced by these birds adds large quantities of nutrients to the soil which is of great importance to the plant communities on coral islands.
The black noddy has a worldwide distribution in tropical and subtropical seas, with colonies widespread in the Pacific Ocean and more scattered across the Caribbean, central Atlantic and in the northeast Indian Ocean. At sea it is usually seen close to its breeding colonies within 80 km of shore. Birds return to their colonies, or to other islands, in order to roost at night.
There are seven listed subspecies:
- A. m. worcesteri, (McGregor, 1911): Cavilli Island & Tubbataha Reef (Sulu Sea)
- A. m. minutus, (Boie, 1844): northeast Australia & New Guinea to Tuamotu Archipelago
- A. m. Marcusi, (Bryan, 1903): Marcus & Wake Islands through Micronesia to the Caroline Islands
- A. m. melanogenys, (Gray, 1846): Hawaiian Islands
- A. m. diamesus, (Heller & Snodgrass, 1901): Clipperton Island (off western Mexico) & Cocos Island (off western Costa Rica)
- A. m. americanus, (Mathews, 1912): islands in the Caribbean Sea
- A. m. atlanticus, (Mathews, 1912): tropical islands in the Atlantic
Nesting in Tubbataha Reef National Park, Philippines
Common noddy head - note stouter beak, greyer cap
- Guager, V.H. (1999) Black Noddy Anous minutus, in The Birds of North America, No412 (Poole, A. and Gill, F. eds) The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Anous minutus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- "Black Noddy". ARKive. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
- Barnes, A.; Hill, G. J. E. (1989). "Census and Distribution of Black Noddy Anous minutus Nests on Heron Island, November 1985". Emu: Austral Ornithology 89 (3): 129–134. doi:10.1071/MU9890129.
- Allaway, W. G.; Ashford, A. E. (1984). "Nutrient input by seabirds to the forest on a coral island of the Great Barrier Reef". Marine Ecology: Progress Series 19: 297–298. doi:10.3354/meps019297.
- Midway atoll US Fish and Wildlife page on the black noddy.
- New Hampshire Public TV "Natureworks" page on the black noddy.
- USDA information
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Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Regarded by some authors as conspecific with A. tenuirostris of Indian Ocean (AOU 1983).