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Bird name:

Little Tern

Sternula albifrons




Terns (Sternidae)





Euring 5

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Breeding Location:

Beaches, sandy or shingle

Breeding Type:

Monogamous, Loose colonies

Egg Colour:

Smooth and pale cream or olive with brown specks and grey blotches.

Number of Eggs:

1 - 4

Incubation Days:

18 - 23

Egg Incubator:

Both sexes

Nest Material:

A bare scrape that may contain shells and vegetation.

Nest Location:

On the ground on beaches of sand, pebbles, shingle, shell, coral fragments or rock above the high tide-line and often only a few metres away from shallow clear water. Also in marshy areas.




Little Tern: Small, slender seabird with narrow, black-tipped, yellow bill. White with grey back and black-tipped wings. Head has white front, black crown and nape, and black line through eye. Has short, orange legs and feet. Graceful flight on fairly rapid wings. Also hovers. Sexes similar. Winter adults like summer birds but with all black bill, grey-pink legs and feet, and white lores. Young birds like winter adults but with more black in primaries, black on forewing, and white secondaries. Also, some black barring on back.

Range and Habitat

Little Tern: Summer breeder in the UK. Found primarily on the coastline, birds can be seen on beaches of western and southeastern Scotland, north Wales, south and eastern England, and the west and east coasts of Ireland. The largest colonies are in England. The birds stay from April through August.

Breeding and Nesting

Little Tern: Small to medium-sized colonies. First breeding is in bird's third year. Nest is usually a scrape on bare ground or gravel, but may be a platform constructed of shells and vegetation in a marshy area. Female usually lays 2 to 3 eggs and both parents incubate for average of 21 - 24 days.

Foraging and Feeding

Little Tern: Primarily eats small fish. Also feeds on insects, worms, molluscs, crustaceans, and other small invertebrates. May hover before plunge and diving for prey.


Little Tern: Quickly delivered "kirrikikki kirrikiki" or a sharp "kik-kik." Call is a harsh "kyik" or "kriet."

Similar Species

Little Tern: Common Tern is larger, with orange legs and bill, lacks the white facial markings, and has a much longer, very pointed tail. Arctic Tern is also larger with orange legs and bill, which is lacking the Little Tern's black tip; It also lacks the white facial markings, has a very long, pointed tail, and has greyer underparts.

The crown is the top part of the birds head.
Also called the hindneck or collar, it is the back of the neck where the head joins the body.
The primaries are the flight feathers specialized for flight. They are attached to the "hand" equivalent part of the wing.
Flight feathers that are attached to the wing in the area similar to the human forearm and between the body and the primaries.
4 and 6 letter alpha codesX

The four letter common name alpha code is is derived from the first two letters of the common first name and the first two letters of common last name. The six letter species name alpha code is derived from the first three letters of the scientific name (genus) and the first three letters of the scientific name (species). See (1) below for the rules used to create the codes..

Four-letter (for English common names) and six-letter (for scientific names) species alpha codes were developed by Pyle and DeSante (2003, North American Bird-Bander 28:64-79) to reflect A.O.U. taxonomy and nomenclature (A.O.U. 1998) as modified by Supplements 42 (Auk 117:847-858, 2000) and 43 (Auk 119:897-906, 2002). The list has been updated by Pyle and DeSante to reflect changes reported by the A.O.U from 2003 through 2006.


The Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) was established in the mid-1990 s as a cooperative project among several federal agencies to improve and expand upon taxonomic data (known as the NODC Taxonomic Code) maintained by the National Oceanographic Data Center (NODC), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

To find the ITIS page for a bird species go to the ITIS web site advanced search and report page at You can enter the TSN or the common name of the bird. It will return the ITIS page for that bird. Another way to obtain the ITIS page is to use the Google search engine. Enter the string ITIS followed by the taxonomic ID, for example "ITIS 178041" will return the page for the Allen's Hummingbird.

Parts of a Standing birdX
Head Feathers and MarkingsX
Parts of a Flying birdX