Roseate Tern

Sterna Dougallii




Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Code 4


Code 6



Egg Color:

White to buff with red brown and gray speckles

Number of Eggs:

1 - 3

Incubation Days:

27 - 30

Egg Incubator:

Both sexes

Nest Location:

Nest on ground, under cover.

Nest Material:

Lined with bits of debris, dry grass, seaweed, and rubbish





Roseate Tern: White below with slight, variable pinkish cast visible in good light; pale gray above with black cap and nape and deeply forked tail that projects well beyond wingtips at rest. Bill mostly black with some red at base; legs and feet are red-orange. Sexes are similar. Winter adult has white forehead, two or three dark primaries, and lacks red at base of bill. Juvenile has a streaked brown cap that extends over the forehead, heavily scaled mantle, black bill, legs and feet and much shorter tail.

Range and Habitat

Roseate Tern: Found in temperate and tropical habitats in the northern hemisphere, breeding in two distinct groups: the Northeast population, breeding from the Magdalen Islands of Quebec to Long Island in New York, and a population in the Caribbean Sea. Both winter in South America from Colombia to Brazil. Found entirely in marine environments on islands, barrier beaches, and salt marsh islands.

Breeding and Nesting

Roseate Tern: Highly marine and coastal; comes ashore only to nest. Nest built by both sexes on ground, under cover, lined with debris, dry grass, and seaweed. Lays one to three white to buff eggs speckled with red brown and gray. Incubation ranges from 21 to 26 days and is carried out by both sexes; first flight at 27 to 30 days, but young may leave nest as early as a few days after hatching. One brood per year.

Foraging and Feeding

Roseate Tern: Eats mainly small fish. Plunge dives for prey, often hovering before making its next catch. Often forms noisy active flocks when predatory fish drive schools of small fish to the surface.


Roseate Tern: Call is soft "chi-weep"; alarm signal is high clear "keer" or drawn-out "zra-ap" (like ripping cloth). Attack is "zhrrraaaaach."

Similar Species

Roseate Tern: Common Tern is smaller with black-tipped red bill and a different voice.

The area on top of the head of the bird.
The upper surface of the back and wings covered with shorter feathers.
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.
Parts of a Standing bird X
Head Feathers and Markings X
Parts of a Flying bird X