Roseate tern

Roseate tern ©Adam Jones

Roseate tern

Scientific name: Sterna dougallii
This elegant tern is named for the rosy flush to its summer plumage. With just one regular nesting colony, it is the rarest breeding seabird in the UK.

Species information

Statistics

Length: 36cm
Wingspan: 76cm
Weight: 110g
Average lifespan: 8 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.

When to see

May to August

About

This medium-sized tern, with its pink-flushed breast and elegant, swallow-like tail streamers, is one of Europe’s rarest seabirds. They nest in colonies, often alongside other terns and black-headed gulls, which helps protect their eggs and chicks from predators. The nest is a shallow scrape on the ground, but they will happily use special nest boxes placed on the floor. A summer visitor, roseate terns are usually the last breeding tern species to return each year, rarely arriving before May.

How to identify

The roseate tern is similar in appearance to common and Arctic terns, but with shorter wings and two extremely long tail feathers during the breeding season. In summer plumage, it is a strikingly pale bird, with a black cap, whitish-grey back and wings and white underparts that are tinged pink - in a flock of greyer Arctic and common terns, roseate terns appear to glow white!

The bill is longer than in common and Arctic terns, and is all black in spring, with a scarlet-red base developing in summer. The legs are bright red.

Distribution

In the UK, the only regular breeding colony of roseate terns is on Coquet Island in Northumberland, with occasional pairs at other sites including Cemlyn Bay, Anglesey, the Firth of Forth in Scotland, and Larne Lough in Northern Ireland. During their spring migration from Africa they are often seen along the south and east coasts.

Did you know?

When most terns are fishing, they fly or hover above the water and then turn and plunge into a dive. Roseate terns typically have a distinctive (and more aggressive) style of diving, using their wings to power towards the water at an angle, as if flying into the sea.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts are working with fishermen, researchers, politicians and local people towards a vision for Living Seas, where coastal and marine wildlife thrives alongside the sustainable use of the ocean's resources. Do your bit for our Living Seas by supporting your local Wildlife Trust.