Little Tern

Sternula albifrons sinensis




Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Code 4


Code 6



Egg Color:

Smooth and pale cream or olive with brown specks and grey blotches.

Number of Eggs:

2 - 3

Incubation Days:

21 - 24

Egg Incubator:

Both sexes

Nest Location:

Nest is laid in a shallow scrape in sand or shingle, typically above the high tide mark on sandy shores.

Nest Material:

Shell and vegetation





Little Tern: Small white tern with black cap and white front. White-gray on back and upper wings. Outer three primaries black-gray. Medium-length, pointed, orange-yellow bill with black tip. Long, pointed wings. Medium, forked tail. Short, orange-yellow legs and feet. Sexes similar. Winter adult has less black on head, black bill, and duller legs. Juvenile like winter adult but more black in wings. Forages for small fish by hovering above water in lagoons, and plunge-diving for prey.

Breeding and Nesting

Little Tern: Two to three cream-colored eggs with black-brown spots and blotches are laid in a shallow scrape on sandy ground. The nest is often placed near water but above the high-tide line. Incubation is carried out by both sexes for 21 to 30 days. This species usually nests in small colonies.

Foraging and Feeding

Little Tern: Feeds on small fish, insects, and other small marine creatures. It catches food by hovering above the water and then diving below the surface to snatch prey with its bill. This tern species often feeds in very shallow water at the edge of a lagoon, in channels, or at the edge of an advancing tideline.


Little Tern: Colonies produce a lot of chattering "kirrikikki kirrikikki." Nesting pairs emit squeaky calls.

Similar Species

Greater Crested Tern is much larger, has black legs and feet, and lacks black tip on bill. All other terns in this range have black or dark red bills.

The area on top of the head of the bird.
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