Roseate Tern

Roseate Tern

Scientific name: Sterna dougallii

Did you know: The Roseate Tern, a bird with an elegant appearance, is the UK’s rarest breeding seabird.

What Do Roseate Terns Look Like? (how to identify them)

Roseate Terns, similar in size to Common Terns, are strikingly white with long tail-streamers, black caps, and black beaks that sport a red-coloured base. 

During summers, their underparts develop a pinkish hue, which is quite distinctive and the origin of their name. This species is recognised for its slender build, straight, thin, and pointed bills, and long, pointy wings. They are larger in size than a Least Tern yet smaller than a Royal or Sandwich Tern.

Differences Between Male And Female Roseate Terns

Males and females of this species are quite similar in appearance, making it a challenge to differentiate between the two. Both sexes share the shiny, chalky white colouration, with pale grey upper wings and striking black caps. 

The bill colour and faint rosy underparts are also common features, although subtle variations might be noticed by keen observers.

What Do Roseate Terns Eat?

Roseate Terns primarily feed on fish. They exhibit a unique hunting style, diving rapidly from flight to catch small fish just below the water’s surface or picking out prey without diving. This seabird’s diet is exclusively marine, and they rarely venture into freshwater areas.

Where Do Roseate Terns Live? (inc. migration info)

These seabirds nest on island beaches composed of pebbles, sand, or shells, usually around low vegetation. Their habitat is primarily marine and intertidal zones. 

Roseate Terns are summer visitors to the UK, arriving in April and departing for West Africa in September. The UK hosts a significant portion of their population, with important breeding sites on Coquet Island, Northumberland, and Lady’s Island Lake, County Wexford.

Bird Calls & Songs (the unique voices of Roseate Terns)

The call of the Roseate Tern is a distinctive ‘chuwit’, similar to that of the spotted redshank. This unique vocalisation sets them apart from other tern species and can be an important identifier for bird enthusiasts.

Fun Roseate Tern Facts (kid friendly)

  • Roseate Terns have a pinkish tinge to their underparts in summer, which is rare among birds.
  • They can fly up to speeds of 40 miles per hour.
  • These birds can live up to 15 years in the wild.
  • Roseate Terns mate for life and return to the same breeding grounds each year.
  • They are known for their graceful, agile flight and acrobatic dives when hunting.
  • Juvenile Roseate Terns have shorter tails than adults and a scaly appearance.
  • The longest tail streamers can be over half the length of their body.
  • Despite their delicate appearance, they are strong migrators, travelling thousands of miles between breeding and wintering grounds.
  • Roseate Terns sometimes steal fish from other seabirds, a behaviour known as kleptoparasitism.
  • They are a symbol of conservation success in the UK due to recent increases in their population.

Facts About The Roseate Tern

Diet: Fish.
Bird Family: Gulls and terns
Length: 33-38cm
Wingspan: 72-80cm
Weight: 95-130g
Scientific Name: Sterna dougallii

The Roseate Tern Can Be Seen In The UK During The Following Months

  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September

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