White Tern

Gygis alba




Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Code 4


Code 6



Egg Color:

Off-white heavily marked with brown, gray, and black streaks.

Number of Eggs:


Incubation Days:

33 - 41

Egg Incubator:

Both sexes

Nest Location:

Shallow depression of a rock or tree branch.

Nest Material:

No nest built





White Tern: Medium-sized tern. Snow white overall, dark eyes and black eye rings make it appear to have large eyes; notched tail. Wings and tail may appear translucent when overhead; dusky flight feather shafts. Bill is slightly up-curved and tapers to a point; black with dark blue base. Legs are black to a dull blue color. Sexes are similar. Juveniles resemble adult; may show black spot behind eye; feathers on upperparts are tinged with brown. Base of bill is black. Has a swerving and erratic fluttering flight.

Range and Habitat

White Tern: Inhabits islands in the tropical and subtropical waters of the south Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean and western and central Pacific. Breeds on small islands made of coral with some degree of vegetation, where it nests and roosts in trees of dense forest with thin branches, but also on rocky ledges and on man-made structures.

Breeding and Nesting

White Tern: One off-white egg, heavily marked with gray, brown, and black streaks, is laid in a shallow depression of a tree branch or ledge. Egg is incubated by both adults for 33 to 41 days. Chick fledges around 48 to 53 days after hatching.

Foraging and Feeding

White Tern: They forage by snatching fish from the surface of the water and air-dipping, catching fish in midair as they leap out of the water to avoid larger fish. These terns prefer the surface of the ocean, primarily inshore waters, shoals and banks, but also offshore waters. They feed mostly on goatfish and flying fish, and sometimes take squid. They take prey opportunistically.


White Tern: Call is given in flight or perched and may vary in intensity, pitch, rate, and number of notes. Given as "eenk-eenk-eenk" or "grrich-grrich-grrich."

Similar Species

White Tern: Blue-gray Noddy is very light gray and may appear white in bright sunlight.

Back, rump, hindneck, wings, and crown.
Parts of a Standing bird X
Head Feathers and Markings X
Parts of a Flying bird X