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10

Little Tern

(Sternula albifrons)
Size: 21-25 cm; wing span: 41-47 cm
Weight: 42-65 g

Similar
species

Description     Classification     Distribution     Sightings     Photos     Breeding     Nest     Eggs     Behaviour     Food     Call/s

Physical description

Click here for a physical description

Taxonomy, classification

See Little Tern at Wikipedia .

Click here for classification information

Range, habitat, finding this species

Click here for information on habitat and range

Sightings

Click here for sighting information

Photos

Race "sinensis"

ADULT

Sex unknown

BREEDING

Frontal view of a Little Tern in breeding plumage looking sideways (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Hunter Wetlands NP, NSW, December 2023]

Frontal view of two Little Terns in (near-)breeding plumage looking sideways
[Bundjalung NP, NSW, February 2012]

The same two Little Terns as above, now seen preening
[Bundjalung NP, NSW, February 2012]

Near-frontal view of a Little Tern in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Hunter Wetlands NP, NSW, December 2023]

Near-lateral view of a Little Tern in (near-)breeding plumage (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Caloundra Headland, QLD, January 2018]

Lateral view of a Little Tern in breeding plumage looking towards the observer (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Near Old Bar, NSW, December 2019]

Close-up lateral view of a Little Tern in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Flat Rock, Ballina, NSW, January 2023]

Lateral view of a Little Tern in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Near Old Bar, NSW, December 2019]

Lateral view of a Little Tern in breeding plumage, left, with a second, in non-breeding plumage, stretching its wings - seen together with two Lesser Sand Plovers (photo courtesy of B. Hensen)
[Lee Point, Darwin, NT, March 2013]

Close-up lateral view of a Little Tern in (near-)breeding plumage (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Flat Rock, Ballina, NSW, February 2019]

Close-up lateral view of a Little Tern moulting out of breeding plumage (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Flat Rock, Ballina, NSW, January 2023]

Dorsal view of a Little Tern in breeding plumage, in direct comparison with an Aleutian Tern (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Near Old Bar, NSW, December 2019]

Dorsal view of a Little Tern in breeding plumage, in direct comparison with Aleutian Terns (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Near Old Bar, NSW, December 2019]

Near-frontal/ventral view of a Little Tern in breeding plumage in flight (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[The Entrance, NSW, December 2023]

Near-lateral view of a Little Tern in breeding plumage in flight (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[The Entrance, NSW, December 2023]

Lateral view of a Little Tern in breeding plumage in flight (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[The Entrance, NSW, December 2023]

NON-BREEDING

Lateral view of a Little Tern in breeding plumage, left, with a second, in non-breeding plumage, stretching its wings - seen together with two Lesser Sand Plovers (photo courtesy of B. Hensen)
[Lee Point, Darwin, NT, March 2013]

Close-up lateral view of a Little Tern in non-breeding plumage (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Flat Rock, Ballina, NSW, January 2023]

Lateral view of Little Terns in non-breeding plumage (photo courtesy of B. Hensen)
[Darwin Harbour, Darwin, NT, March 2013]

Lateral view of two Little Terns in non-breeding plumage, in front of much larger Common Terns; note that the legs are not black, but dark greyish-pink (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Caloundra Headland, QLD, January 2018]

Little Tern, top, in comparison with a Common Tern, bottom (photo courtesy of B. Hensen)
[Old Bar, NSW, February 2018]

Little Terns in comparison with Common Terns (photo courtesy of B. Hensen)
[Old Bar, NSW, February 2018]

Little Tern, top right, in comparison with a Common Tern, bottom left (photo courtesy of B. Hensen)
[Old Bar, NSW, February 2018]

IMMATURE/JUVENILE

Near-lateral view of an immature Little Tern; while mostly in non-breeding plumage, this bird still has its (dark) juvenile primary flight feathers (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[The Entrance, NSW, December 2023]

Lateral view of a juvenile Little Tern (photo courtesy of B. Hensen)
[Eastlakes Golf Course, Sydney, NSW, February 2013]

Two juvenile Little Terns (photo courtesy of B. Hensen)
[Eastlakes Golf Course, Sydney, NSW, February 2013]

Lateral view of a near-fledging age Little Tern chick (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[The Entrance, NSW, December 2023]

Near-dorsal view of a near-fledging age Little Tern chick (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[The Entrance, NSW, December 2023]

Near-dorsal view of a near-fledging age Little Tern chick (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[The Entrance, NSW, December 2023]

Little Tern in breeding plumage with its 3 chicks, one of which has just been fed (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[The Entrance, NSW, December 2023]

Little Tern with a precocial chick hiding under sparse vegetation (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[The Entrance, NSW, December 2023]

Little Tern with a precocial chick hiding under sparse vegetation (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[The Entrance, NSW, December 2023]

Precocial Little Tern chick hiding under sparse vegetation (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[The Entrance, NSW, December 2023]

Race "albifrons"

Photos of Little Terns, race "albifrons", have been taken by us in Europe.

Breeding information

Breeding season: Sep - Mar Eggs: 1 - 3 Incubation period: 17 - 25 days Fledging age: 17 - 19 days

The breeding season listed above applied to the south-eastern breeding areas of Little Terns. Farther north it can start earlier.

Nest building: Female & male Incubation: Female & male Dependent care: Female & male

Nest

"bungobittah", "lar", "malunna", "jindi" [bundjalung] = nest [Aboriginal]

Type: Scrape Material: Sand Height above ground: N/A

Near-lateral view of a Little Tern in breeding plumage settling down on its nest with 2 eggs (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[The Entrance, NSW, December 2023]

Near-dorsal view of a Little Tern in breeding plumage on its nest (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[The Entrance, NSW, December 2023]

Little Tern on its nest protected by fencing by the local Council (photo courtesy of A. Allnutt)
[Wallaga Lake entrance, near Bermagui, NSW, December 2018]

Eggs

"boyanga", "booyanga", "derinya", "dirandil", "koomura", "mirk", "ngampu", "nooluk", "pateena", "pum-pum" = Egg; "dirundirri" = eggs [Aboriginal]; "gawu" = eggs [gamilaraay]

Size: 29 x 22 mm Colour: Creamy to olive-brown, with dark-brown speckles Shape: Tapered oval

Little Tern nest with a full complement of 3 eggs; note the first chick just sticking out its head above where the eggs at centre and right appear to be touching (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[The Entrance, NSW, December 2023]

Little Tern nest with 2 eggs; note the difference in colour with the eggs shown above (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[The Entrance, NSW, December 2023]

Little Tern nest with 2 eggs; note the difference in colour with the eggs shown above (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[The Entrance, NSW, December 2023]

Food, Diet

Lateral view of a Little Tern in breeding plumage with its catch - a fish, in this case for its brood (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[The Entrance, NSW, December 2023]

Call(s)/Song

For this species we have recorded the following call(s)/song. The interpretation of their meaning is our own; comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

In the audio recording below, the Little Tern calls are the high-pitched ones.

littern_aa_20181217.m4a (SE NSW) Contact calls(?); (with Silver Gull and Greater Crested Tern) © AA

More Little Tern sound recordings are available at xeno-canto.org .

These pages are largely based on our own observations and those of our contributors. The structure of these bird pages is explained HERE. For more salient facts on any bird species please refer to a field guide.

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If interested, please CLICK HERE. Credits to contributors are given HERE.