Roseate Tern

Sterna dougallii



Though a comparable size to the Common Tern, this bird is whiter, and its wingbeats are more shallow, its wings shorter. The upperparts are light grey, and the underparts are whitish but can appear pink-flushed in spring. It has a black cap, long tail streamers, red legs and a dark bill with a red base. It looks pale when flying, though the outer primaries are dark. In late summer and winter the forehead is white and the tail streamers are absent. Juveniles are white underneath, they have a partially formed dark cap and back feathers with blackish edges that give a scaly effect.


Rocky or sandy marine islands in close proximity to shore are preferred nesting sites; shallow fishing territories are usually nearby. When not breeding, these terns frequent inshore waters, and winter is spent on coasts with tropical climates.


It fishes gracefully, making turns and dipping into the water from considerable heights, occasionally hovering. It is a colonial nester and may steal food from other birds; at other times it may be alone, in large groups, or associating amongst other tern species.


Mainly eats small fish including sand eels, herring and sprats.


Female lays 1-2 eggs in June and both adults incubate for 21-26 days, though the female does most of the job. Hatchlings may wander around, not straying too far from their nest, and they can fly at about 30 days old; young birds don't gain independence for 8 weeks or more.


This is a summer visitor to the region and its worldwide population is only a few hundred pairs. Almost exclusively a marine tern, even during migration. Birds depart breeding territories in August and quickly make their way to West Africa. Less than 100 pairs breed in the UK and 700 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

These birds are best observed when in one of their protected colonies, though they can occasionally be spotted around the coasts during migration. Since disturbance is to be avoided, views of this bird are usually only possible from a distance.


Utters a blaring 'chew-vik' and a cackly 'kraak'.
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