Antarctic tern

Antarctic terns have a white underbelly, light grey upper feathers with a black band across their eyes.
Antarctic terns (Photo: Christopher Clarke)

Scientific name: Sterna vittata

Physical description

Antarctic tern adults are approximately 40 cm in length and have a wingspan of 80 cm. The bill is bright red and the feet and legs, orange/red. The head is black during the summer, but in the winter months it is streaked with white.

Distribution & abundance

Antarctic terns breed at Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island, Iles Kerguelen, St. Paul and Amsterdam Island, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands, South Orkney Islands, South Shetland Islands, the Antarctic Peninsula, some New Zealand subantarctic islands, Macquarie Island and Heard Island.

Antarctic terns return to colonies in September and October. They are loosely colonial birds, rarely nesting with more than 40 widely-spread nests in any one locality.

Conservation status: least concern

Breeding

Up to three eggs are laid in a shallow pebble- or shell-lined scrape on the ground, between October and January. The nests are difficult to see as the eggs and chicks are highly camouflaged.

Fledging of the chicks occurs between January and May. The parents attend their young for several weeks after fledging, occasionally feeding their chicks.

Diet and feeding

Antarctic terns are gregarious, fishing in flocks of up to several hundred birds just beyond the surf zone. They feed on small fish and various crustacea. Antarctic terns also scavenge in the intertidal zone for stranded littoral organisms.

Adult Antarctic terns co-operate to defend their colonies. However, skuas and kelp gull still occasionally manage to take eggs or chicks from unattended nests in colonies.

This page was last modified on 20 February 2012.