Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

Antarctic Tern (Sterna vittata)


French: Sterne couronnée German: Antarktikseeschwalbe Spanish: Charrán antártico

Sterna vittata

J. F. Gmelin

, 1789,

Kerguelen Island


Genetic data#R indicate that present species, S. dougallii, S. hirundinacea, S. hirundo and S. paradisaea 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. Geographical variation poorly understood. Race tristanensis at times included in sanctipauli, and latter sometimes subsumed within nominate vittata; further study required. Macquarie I population here included in bethunei, but often separated as race macquariensis. Six subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • S. v. tristanensis Murphy, 1938 – Tristan da Cunha I and Gough I; single breeding report from South Africa questioned, but based on ringing recovery.
  • S. v. georgiae Reichenow, 1904 – South Georgia, South Orkney Is, South Sandwich Is and Bouvet I.
  • S. v. gaini Murphy, 1938 – South Shetland Is, also Antarctic Peninsula (S to Marguerite Bay).
  • S. v. vittata J. F. Gmelin, 1789 – Prince Edward I, Marion I, Crozet Is, Kerguelen Is and Heard I, in S Indian Ocean.
  • S. v. sanctipauli Gould, 1865 – Amsterdam and St Paul Is, in S Indian Ocean.
  • S. v. bethunei Buller, 1896 – Stewart I (extreme S New Zealand), and Snares Is, Auckland Is, Campbell I, Macquarie I, Bounty Is and Antipodes Is.
  • Sometimes said to breed on Ascension and St Helena (both in C Atlantic), but this almost certainly erroneous.

    Descriptive notes

    35–40 cm; 150–180 g (average summer 167–170, winter 197–205 g; bethunei, Campbell I, 114–171 g); wingspan 74–79 cm. Forehead to... read more


    Noisy at nesting colonies and at roost sites. A contact call,  “trr-trr-kriah” is given in... read more


    Rocky islets, with or without vegetation. Often near other seabirds. Often nests on cliffs, but... read more

    Food and feeding

    Opportunisitic. Diet almost exclusively small fish (particularly nototheniids) in some places; polychaetes and limpets at Heard I; mainly... read more


    Mainly November–December, with some variation depending on climate and food availability: October–November in Snares, November... read more


    Adults and young leave their nesting areas shortly after young fledge. Some populations remain... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). The global population is currently estimated at 132,000–145,000 individuals including 45,000 breeding pairs; the great... read more

    Recommended citation

    Gochfeld, M., Burger, J. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2020). Antarctic Tern (Sterna vittata). 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 18 February 2020).