Common Tern Sterna hirundo   [Linnaeus, 1758]

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Order: Charadriiformes Family: Sternidae
BTO Codes: CN, COMTE EURING No: 6150
Number in Britain: 10 thousand Pairs (Summer)
Conservation Status:
European: Not a species of concern
Global: (Details)
Status in UK: (A)  Migrant Breeder, Passage Visitor
Subspecies: hirundo recorded in Britain (of 4 subsp. in the world)
Length: 33 cm Wingspan: 88 cm Weight: M/F: 130 g    
Scientific name from: Old English: stearn=a tern and L.: hirundo=the swallow
World Distribution: BREEDS: Eurasia & North America, WINTERS: s Europe, s Asia, Africa, Australia & South America
Habitat: Sandy seacoasts, in winter marshes, estuaries
Diet: Mostly fish, also crustaceans in some areas, mostly by plunge-diving
TitBit: Remarkably similar to the Arctic Tern, they are often both referred to as 'commic' terns, but a dark-tipped bill, paler plumage and shorter tail streamers should help identify this bird; it also frequently nests inland, unlike its cousin.  
Identification Tips:
  Images from IBC or search flickr
  Videos from IBC
  Sound from xeno-canto
Crossley ID photos BTO ID Workshop

Population and Distribution

Population Trend: JNCC Seabird Monitoring Programme
Distribution: No distribution maps available
British Population Size:
    Summer: 10 thousand Pairs in 2000
    First Record: Recorded in Anglo-Saxon times
    Latest Survey: Mitchell, P.I. et al. (2004) Seabird populations of Britain and Ireland Poyser, London
    Conservation Status: AMBER because Localised Breeding Population,
   Previous Assessments: 2002-2007 GREEN     1996-2001 GREEN  
   Races of Concern: hirundo AMBER (Rare or Localised)
Habitat Occupancy (in the Breeding Season):
    Most frequent in: Estuaries
Relative Frequency in Each Habitat:
Migration routes: Map of foreign ringing recoveries  and summary map from Time to Fly (in pop-up windows)
European Population Size:
    Summer: 220 to 320 thousand pairs
Population Assesment from Birds in Europe
Distribution in Europe mapped by the EBCC Atlas
Listed on the Appendices/Schedules of: WBD(I), Bern(III), Bonn(II*), AEWA
Survey Results: Results from BirdTrack
Summary text from Seabird 2000 (warning: link to large pdf)

Breeding and Survival

Egg Size: 41 x 31 mm Egg Weight: 20.2 g (of which 5 % is shell)
Number of Nest Records: 292
Clutch Size: 2 - 3 eggs 2.55 ± 0.72 (1 - 3) N = 143
Incubation: 21- 22 days   by the: Female (occ. Male)
Fledging: 22 - 28days as: Semi-precocial, downy
First Clutches Laid: Unavailable
Number of Broods: 1
Number Ringed: Annual Totals
Adult Survival: 0.900       
Juvenile Survival: 0.470 (to age 2 )  
Age at First Breeding: 3 years Typical Lifespan: 12 years
Maximum Recorded Age: 33 years 0 months 6 days (set in 1996)
Read a summary of Ringing Recoveries


Ring Size: C2
Wing Length Adult: 271.2 ± 6.5 Range 260 - 281 mm, N =304
Juvenile: 261.8 ± 8.6 247.5 - 275.5 mm, N =120
Male: Insufficient Data
Female: Insufficient Data
Weight Adult: 127.5 ± 9.55 Range 113.0 - 144.0 g , N =429
Juvenile: 126.8 ± 13.71 106.0 - 153.0 g , N =124
Male: Insufficient Data
Female: Insufficient Data
British Trust for Ornithology (2005) Ringing Scheme data

Other Names

Gaelic: Steàrnag-chumanta Welsh: Morwennol Gyffredin
Danish: Fjordterne Dutch: Visdief
Finnish: Kalatiira French: Sterne pierregarin
German: Flußseeschwalbe Hungarian: Küszvágó csér
Icelandic: Sílaþerna Irish: Geabhróg
Italian: Sterna comune Norwegian: Makrellterne
Polish: Rybitwa rzeczna Portuguese: Andorinha-do-mar-comum
Spanish: Charrán común Swedish: Fisktärna
Local Names: Sea Swallow, Darr, Tirrick

For More Information...

Books and Monographs:
   Hume, R. 1993 The Common Tern Hamlyn, London [598.616 HUM]
   Palmer, R.S. (ed) 1941 A behaviour study of the common tern Boston Society of Natural History, Boston [598.616 PAL]
   Cabot, D. & Nisbet, I. 2013 Terns Collins, London [598.616 CAB]
See Also:
Find scientific papers on Google Scholar or Scirus by clicking the icon
Wikipedia entry
HBW account (subscription required)
BirdLife species page
Recent sightings and information from BirdGuides
All About Birds (from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)