Sterna albifrons   Pallas,  1764 (Bird)
Organism information awaits expert curation
Class: Aves

Image copyrights: Pbase

Size: 22-24 cm; Length 20-28 cm,Wingspan: 450-550mm, Tail: 80-110mm, Bill: 26-32mm, Tarsus: 16-18mm, Weight: 50g

The Little Tern is a slender, very small, migratory or partly migratory seabird.

Color: Back and wings grey; whole crown black with white forehead (white extends over whole of forecrown and white speckles on hindcrown in non-breeding plumage); rump and tail white; outer two primaries and associated coverts black; narrow white leading and trailing edges to wings. Immature with forecrown whitish buff, hindcrown black speckled buff; back browner, tail and rump grey, flight feathers dark grey, darker on primaries. Bare parts: iris dark brown; bill yellow with a black tip in breeding and black in non-breeding dress; feet and legs orange to brown.

Voice: The usual flight call is a repetitive shrill high-pitched kik or kip or a high-pitched, slightly rasping, disyllabic gi-wick or kid-ik.

Habits: The Little Tern is almost exclusively coastal with sheltered environments preferred. However, the species may also occur several
kilometers from the sea in harbours, inlets and rivers. Occasionally, the
species may be recorded on offshore islands or coral cays. Feeds alone or in small flocks, flying back and forth over water surface scanning for food, plunges steeply over prey, also feeds by dipping.

Adult: Sexes alike. A small grey and white tern. Non-breeding (winter): Forehead, crown and nape black mixed with white, bill blackish, legs and feet dusky red. Breeding (summer): Forehead white, crown and nape velvety black, bill and legs orange-yellow. Juvenile: Dark wavy bars on upperparts, white forehead and crown speckled brownish-black, blackish nape finely dotted with white.

Breeding season: It breeds between May and July in solitary pairs or small monospecific groups usually of 1-15 pairs (rarely over 40 pairs) occasionally amidst colonies of other terns. Breeding may be timed to coincide with peak fish abundance. Nest- The nest is a bare scrape positioned on the ground in less than 15 % vegetation cover on beaches of sand, pebbles, shingle, shell fragments, coral fragments or rock above the high tide-line and often only a few metres away from shallow clear water. Alternatively in more marshy habitats (e.g. coastal saltmarshes) the species may build a nest of shells or vegetation. Eggs- 1-3eggs, both parents incubate the egg.

Synonym (s)
Sternula albifrons Christidis and Boles 2008

Common Name (s)
• Little Tern (English)
• Least tern (English)
• Sea swallow, (English)
• White-shafted Ternlet (English)
• Cheeti ala, (Tamil)
• Surya (Marathi)
• Nani dhomdi (Gujrati)
Economic Importance and Threats
Threats:  Anthropogenic
(The species is threatened by habitat destruction such as the development and industrial reclamation of coastal breeding habitats (e.g. for the development of new harbour facilities). It is also highly vulnerable to human disturbance (including birdwatchers) at coastal and inland nesting sites which can lead to nest failures. Pesticide pollution (e.g. organochlorine pollutants, mercury and DDT) and artificially induced water-level fluctuations in saltmarshes may also pose a threat to the species's reproductive success. The species also suffers because of the collection of the egg by locals.)
Threats:  Natural threats
(This species is susceptible to avian influenza so may be threatened by future outbreaks of the virus )
Importance:  Commercial
(collection of eggs by locals for food)

Habitat:  Estuarine, Coastal
Trophic Level:  Consumer
Prey:  Carnivorous, comprising chiefly small fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects.
IUCN Status:  Least Concern


• Orissa, Chilika Lake (Lat: 19.77) (Long: 85.33) INDIA
• Goa, Velsao beach INDIA (Record: 20/12/1980)
• Goa, Terekhol Estuary INDIA
• Goa, Arambol INDIA
• Goa, Agarwaddo marshes INDIA
• Goa, Morjim beach INDIA
• Goa, Chapora Estuary INDIA
• Goa, Anjuna INDIA
• Goa, Candolim INDIA
• Goa, Nerul Creek INDIA
• Goa, Divar INDIA
• Goa, Santa Cruz INDIA
• Goa, Agassaim mudflats INDIA
• Goa, Betul Bay INDIA
• Tamil Nadu, Chennai INDIA
• Tamil Nadu, Gulf of Mannar INDIA
• Mangalore, Nethravathi INDIA
• Mangalore, Pavoor INDIA
• Mangalore, Someshwar INDIA
• Kerala, Kol wetlands (Lat: 10.66) (Long: 76.18) INDIA
• Kerala, Kol wetlands (Lat: 10.33) (Long: 75.96) INDIA
• Karnataka, Malyadi Estuary INDIA
• Tamil Nadu, Point Calimere (Lat: 10.3) (Long: 79.85) INDIA
• Kerela, Kuttanad wetlands INDIA

Literature Source(s)
  • Prasad, M and Varshney, RK (2002) Checklist of Indian Odonata Available at -
  • Abbaasi, SA (1997) Wetlands of India-Ecology and Threats Discovery Publishing House,New Delhi II 1-182 Available at - NIO, RC Kochi
  • Society for the Management of European Biodiversity Data (2009) World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) Available at -
  • (2003) IUCN Red list of threatened species Available at -
  • Kumar, A; Sati, JP; Tak, PC and Alfred, JRB (2005) Handbook on Indian wetland birds and their conservation Zoological Survey of India, Dehra Dun 468 pp Available at - NIO, Goa
  • Lainer, H (2004) Birds of Goa : A reference book The Goa Foundation, Goa 244 pp Available at - NIO, Goa
  • PBase Available at -
  • Marine Biological Station, Chennai, Tamil Nadu (2003) Checklist of marine fauna of Tamil Nadu Department of Environment, Government of Tamil Nadu Available at -
  • Dr. Ramesh, R; Dr. Nammalwar, P and Dr. Gowri, VS (2008) Database on coastal information of Tamil Nadu Report Submitted to Environmental Information System (ENVIS) Centre, Department of Environment, Government of Tamil Nadu Institute for Ocean Management, Anna University, Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Available at -
  • Ramitha, M and Vijayalaxmi, KK. (2001) A checklist of Birds in and around Mangalore University campus, Karnataka Zoos' Print Journal Department of Studies and Research in Applied Zoology, Mangalore University, Mangalagangothri, Karnataka, India. 16(5) 489-492 Available at -
  • Nameer, PO (2005) Wetlands and waterfowl conservation in kerala with special reference to Ramsar sites kerala environment congress 2005 Centre for environment and development 97-112 Available at - NIO, Goa
  • Srinivasulu, C (2004) Birds of kawal wildlife sanctuary, Andhra Pradesh , India Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 101(1) 3-25 Available at - NIO, Goa
  • Vernacular names of the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent Buceros, Envis newsletter: Avian Ecology & Inland Wetlands 62pp Available at -
  • Standardized English names of the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent ENVIS Newsletter: Avian Ecology and Inland Wetland 55pp Available at -
  • Manakadan R and Pittie A (2001) Standardized English names of the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent BUCEROS Envis Newsletter: Avian ecology and inland wetland 6(1) 26pp Available at -
  • Threatened species information Little Tern NSW national park and wildlife service Available at -
  • Vernacular names of the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent Buceros, Envis newsletter: Avian Ecology & Inland Wetlands 62pp Available at -
  • Balchandran S, Rahmani AR and Sathiyaselvam P (2005) Habitat evaluation of Chilka lake with special reference to birds as bio-indicators Bombay Natural History Society 140pp Available at -
  • Checklist of Birds of Malyadi Estuary, Karnataka Available at -
  • Lal Mohan RS (1986) Birds and Bird Catchers Of Ramanathapuram Coast Available at -
  • Narayanan SP, Thomas AP and Sreekumar B (2011) Ornithofauna and its conservation in the Kuttanad wetlands, southern portion of Vembanad-Kole Ramsar site, India Journal of Threatened Taxa 3(4) 1663–1676 Available at -
  • Gibbon-Hill CA, Campbell B, Campbell R and Prytherch R (1976) A guide to the birds of the coast Constable and Company Ltd 13-283pp Available at - Goa University

Page last updated on:2013-02-12

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