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Terns

Arctic tern swooping for food

Image: Steve Round

Small to medium birds, mostly smaller and slimmer than most of the gulls.

There are two main groups, the ‘sea’ terns (not always strictly marine), which look pale grey and white except for a black cap in summer, have long tail streamers and dive to catch fish, and the ‘marsh terns’, which are blunt-tailed, almost black underneath in summer, and dip to pick their food from the surface without diving.

All are migratory, often seen outside their breeding areas in spring and autumn, but absent from Europe in winter.

Arctic tern

With its long tail streamers and general shape the Arctic tern deserves the local name of 'sea swallow'. Appearing white with a black cap, it is largely coastal although it can be seen inland on migra... More...

Arctic tern

Black tern

A small tern with an all-black head and body, contrasting with grey wings, back and tail in spring; autumn birds have grey upperparts, white underparts and distinctive black head markings. Feeds by d... More...

Black tern

Common tern

These delightful silvery-grey and white birds have long tails which have earned them the nickname 'sea-swallow'. They have a buoyant, graceful flight and frequently hover over water before plunging d... More...

Common tern

Little tern

This delightful chattering seabird is the UK's smallest tern. It is short-tailed and has a fast flight. Its bill is a distinctive yellow with a black tip. It is noisy at its breeding colony where cour... More...

Little tern

Roseate tern

Similar in size to a common tern but very white-looking, with long tail-streamers, a black cap and a black beak with a reddish base. In summer adults have a pinkish tinge to their underparts which gi... More...

Roseate tern

Sandwich tern

The Sandwich tern is a very white tern, with a black cap on its head, a long black bill with a yellow tip and short black legs. In flight it shows grey wedges on its wings tips and it has a short fork... More...

Sandwich tern