Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii)


French: Sterne de Dougall German: Rosenseeschwalbe Spanish: Charrán rosado

Sterna Dougallii


, 1813,

Firth of Clyde, Scotland


In some respects intermediate between Sterna and Thalasseus. Genetic data#R indicate that present species, S. hirundinacea, S. hirundo, S. paradisaea and S. vittata may form a monophyletic group that also includes Old World S. striata and S. sumatrana, with S. forsteri and S. trudeaui possibly also part of this group. May hybridize with S. hirundo and S. paradisaea. Internal taxonomy in need of revision, as subspecific boundaries confused: racial allocation of birds breeding on islets off E Africa requires study, perhaps closer to bangsi than to nominate dougallii, although included in latter; arideensis may not be distinct from bangsi; variation of nominate encompasses almost entire range of variation of the species. Has been suggested that arideensis, korustes and bangsi be synonymized with gracilis#R. Five subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • S. d. dougallii Montagu, 1813 – Nova Scotia to New York and Florida, S through Gulf of Honduras and West Indies to islands off N Venezuela, and also Azores, NW Europe, and E & S Africa from S Somalia to Tanzania and in Western and Eastern Cape Provinces; American populations may winter mainly in mid-Atlantic, while E Atlantic ones winter on coasts of tropical W Africa.
  • S. d. arideensis Mathews, 1912 – Seychelles S to Madagascar and E to Rodrigues I.
  • S. d. korustes (A. O. Hume, 1874) – W & SE India, Sri Lanka, Andaman Is and Mergui Archipelago (off extreme S Myanmar).
  • S. d. bangsi Mathews, 1912 – Arabian Sea, Ryukyu Is, coastal China and Taiwan S to Greater Sundas and E to S New Guinea, N Australia, Solomons, New Caledonia and possibly Fiji, E to Tuamotu Is; presumably this race in Cocos (Keeling) Is, in E Indian Ocean.
  • S. d. gracilis Gould, 1845 – Moluccas and Australia.
  • Descriptive notes

    33–43 cm; 90–125 g (ave­rage 110 g, New York); wingspan 72–80 cm. Very pale typical tern with very long tail streamers; forehead to nape black; mantle... read more


    Vocal at nesting colony and in feeding flocks. Frequent contact calls include  "pink" and "ki-... read more


    Exclusively marine. Breeds on sandy, rocky or coral islands, often with dense vegetation in... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet much less varied than that of the Common Tern S. hirundo, with which it often nests: almost exclusively small fish,... read more


    Apr in W Australia, India, Sri Lanka and Madagascar, May–Jun in NE USA and Europe, Jun in Somalia, Jul–Aug in Kenya and... read more


    Palearctic birds winter W Africa, mainly between Guinea and Gabon; birds usually remain in tropics... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). The global population in 2017 is estimated at c.200,000–220,000 individuals. The distribution is cosmopolitan but the species... read more

    Recommended citation

    Gochfeld, M., Burger, J. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2017). Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii). 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 28 June 2017).