Sternula albifrons albifrons
Length: 21 – 28 cm
Wingspan: 41 – 55 cm
Weight: 45 – 65 g
Appearance: small-sized tern with a thin sharp yellow bill with a black tip; legs are also yellow. In winter, the forehead is more extensively white, the bill is black and the legs duller.
Distinguishing characteristics: the smallest tern in Mediterranean.
Flight: light, fast and jerky.
Sound: loud and distinctive high-pitched creaking call.
Ecology and habitat
Nest: a small hollow formed in the sand or gravel of sandy coasts or on the edges of lagoons.
Diet: small fish and crustaceans, insects, annelid worms and molluscs; feeds in very shallow water, often over the advancing tideline or in brackish lagoons and saltmarsh creeks.
Behaviour at sea: rarely seen at sea or far from the coast.
* This map indicates coastal nesting sites in the Mediterranean and adjacent Seas.
Distribution and movement
Breeding: the species is cosmopolite; the subspecies Sterna albifrons albifrons breeds in Europe, West Asia and West Indian Ocean.
Wintering: Africa to India.
Phenology: Laying: May-July; one or two eggs. Incubation: 22 days. Chick-rearing. Fledging: 4 weeks after hatching.
Global population estimate: 190,000-410,000 individuals . European population: 36,000-53,000 pairs.
Threats: disappearance of coastal habitats due to tourism development, human disturbance, predation by rats and seagulls.
Protection level: Barcelona Convention: Annex II; Bern Convention: Appendix II, African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement; Convention on Migratory Species: Appendix II; EU Birds Directive: Annex I; IUCN Red List: Least Concern.
Some key references
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Sternula albifrons.
Oro D., Bertolero A., Vilalta A. M., López, M. A. 2004. The biology of the Little Tern in the Ebro Delta (northwestern Mediterranean). Waterbirds 27(4): 434-440.