Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

Little Tern (Sternula albifrons)


French: Sterne naine German: Zwergseeschwalbe Spanish: Charrancito común

Sterna albifrons


, 1764,



Closely related to S. saundersi, S. antillarum, S. superciliaris and S. lorata (and possibly also S. balaenarum). Some works treat S. antillarum, and sometimes S. saundersi, as conspecific with present species. Apparent hybridization with S. nereis in S Australia indicates possible close relationship; long-term study of relationships required. Form sinensis sometimes treated as a separate species (with pusilla either synonymized with it or included as a race). Validity of forms innominata and placens questionable; former often included within nominate, and placens has been regarded as a synonym of sinensis. Six subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • S. a. albifrons (Pallas, 1764) – Europe through W Asia E to (at least) Afghanistan#R, also Atlantic coastal Morocco and the Mediterranean coast of N Africa; winters on coasts from Africa E to W India.
  • S. a. innominata (Zarudny & Loudon, 1902) – islands in Persian Gulf.
  • S. a. guineae (Bannerman, 1931) – Ghana to Gabon and along R Niger and major tributaries, with marginal population in Mauritania and Senegal.
  • S. a. pusilla (Temminck, 1839) – N India and Myanmar, and islands off Sumatra and Java.
  • S. a. sinensis (J. F. Gmelin, 1789) – Sri Lanka; SE Russia, China, Japan, SE Asia and Philippines to N Australia; recent colonist from Micronesia (Saipan)#R E to Hawaii most likely this race#R,#R, and also some birds in New Britain and Solomons (Bougainville and perhaps Santa Isabel); N populations winter mostly in Malaysia.
  • S. a. placens Gould, 1871 – E Australia and E Tasmania; some dispersal N to N Australia, possibly also to as far as Indonesia and SW Pacific.
  • Descriptive notes

    22–28 cm; 47–63 g (average 50 g, Ukraine); wingspan 47–55 cm. Archetypical small tern: small, with white forehead, black cap and lores, grey back and wings... read more


    Commonly gives a distinctive, rasping "kriet". Alarm or display call is a rapid chattering "kerre-... read more


    Inhabits subtropical to temperate regions, reaching an altitude of 2000 m in Armenia. Continental... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mainly small fish and crustaceans (3–6 cm), also insects, annelids and molluscs. Fish taken includes sandeels (Ammodytes... read more


    Seasonal but extended in some regions. In W Africa, at the Banc d'Arguin, Mauritania, clutches are laid from mid March to mid July,... read more


    Most Paleartcic breeders are migratory and winter south of the breeding range, chiefly in the... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). The global population is not known with any precision since there is no census data for races pusilla and sinensis... read more

    Recommended citation

    Gochfeld, M., Burger, J. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2017). Little Tern (Sternula albifrons). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 24 June 2017).