Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

Australian Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon macrotarsa)


French: Sterne à longues pattes German: Australische Lachseeschwalbe Spanish: Pagaza australiana

Sterna macrotarsa


, 1837,



Hitherto treated as conspecific with G. nilotica, but differs in its considerably larger size, with effect size for bill 3.69 (published data#R; score 2); differently shaped bill, with culmen more decurved and negligible gonydeal angle (2); nomadic, opportunistic and kleptoparasitic behaviour decoupled from tightly scheduled migration patterns (1); paler grey upperparts (1); more extensive black patch around the eye and ear-coverts in winter (1). Monotypic.

What do (1) and (2) mean? Learn more about the scoring system.

Australia. In winter also N to S New Guinea.

Descriptive notes

35–38 cm; 184–369 g; wingspan 100–115 cm. Breeding adult has head and neck white, black cap from forehead to nape, upperparts pale silvery grey, with only slight contrast... read more


Very poorly documented, and also comparatively quiet; no known differences to date from G.... read more


Prefers shallow, often ephemeral, terrestrial wetlands, both fresh and saline, especially lakes,... read more

Food and feeding

Diet includes insects (Orthoptera, Hemiptera, Coleoptera, Lepidoptera and Hymenoptera), fish (Anguillidae, Clupeidae), crustaceans and... read more


Mostly Sept–Jan, but records of eggs Feb–Jun indicate breeding whenever conditions suitable. Monogamous. Loosely to densely colonial,... read more


Highly dispersive, with general pattern of apparently regular movements to N Australia in winter (... read more

Status and conservation

Not globally threatened (Least Concern). There are no precise population estimates but the global population was estimated at 25,000–100,000 birds in 2004. Most known... read more

Recommended citation

del Hoyo, J., Collar, N., Kirwan, G.M. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2020). Australian Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon macrotarsa). 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 February 2020).