Sandwich Tern

Thalasseus sandvicensis




Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Code 4


Code 6



Egg Color:

White to pink with brown, black and gray marks.

Number of Eggs:

1 - 3

Incubation Days:

21 - 29

Egg Incubator:

Both sexes

Nest Location:

On ground in open above tidemark.

Nest Material:

Lined with various debris.





Sandwich Tern: Only medium-sized tern with long slender black bill tipped with yellow; upperparts are very pale gray, nearly white, and underparts are white. Black crown has a short black crest. White tail is deeply forked; legs and feet are black. Sexes are similar. Females are slightly smaller with outer tips of the outer primaries gray instead of white. Winter adult has white forehead and darker primaries. Juvenile has faint streaking on weakly crested crown, gray chevrons on upperparts and paler bill.

Range and Habitat

Sandwich Tern: Found in many parts of the world, breeding in select locations in Europe, southwestern Asia, Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. In North America, they are only found along the Gulf Coast of Mexico and the United States and along the Atlantic coast of the United States during the summer months. Found in areas of sandy islands or beaches.

Breeding and Nesting

Sandwich Tern: Monogamous; colonial, often mixed with other terns, especially Royal Terns. Simple nest on coastal beaches and islands, in the open above tidemark, unlined or lined with debris; One to three white to pink eggs with brown, black, and gray markings. Incubation ranges from 21 to 29 days and is carried out by both sexes; first flight at 28 to 32 days.

Foraging and Feeding

Sandwich Tern: These terns feed primarily along coastal marine areas such as open ocean and bays, inlets and outflows. They usually hover and then dive from great heights to catch prey under the water. They feed on squid, shrimp, small marine fish and crustaceans. They drink by skimming the surface of the water in flight.


Sandwich Tern: Aburpt whistle, grating "gwit gwit," and "skir-rick." Also yelping "kehk," and slightly reedy "ki-i wii-wii."

Similar Species

Sandwich Tern: Royal Tern is larger, plumper, with heavier, orange bill.


Belly, undertail coverts, chest, flanks, and foreneck.

Back, rump, hindneck, wings, and crown.
Tufts of feathers on the head of the bird.
The crown is the top part of the birds head.
Outer primariesX
The outer primaries are the primary feathers on the wing farthest from the body. They often appear to be the longest feathers on the wing.
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