Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

Bridled Tern (Onychoprion anaethetus)


French: Sterne bridée German: Zügelseeschwalbe Spanish: Charrán embridado

Sterna Anaethetus


, 1786,

Panay, Philippines


Formerly united with O. fuscatus and O. lunatus in separate genus Haliplana. Geographical variation subtle, and subspecific divisions probably exaggerated; taxonomy in need of revision; nelsoni perhaps inseparable from melanopterus. Proposed forms recognitus (from West Indies, Belize and islands off N Venezuela) is included in melanopterus, and fuligula (Red Sea and E Africa to Persian Gulf and W India) in antarcticus; described forms rogersi (N Western Australia) and novaehollandiae (Queensland to S Australia) currently synonymized with nominate; further study desirable. Four subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • O. a. melanopterus (Swainson, 1837) – West Indies, Belize and islands off N Venezuela; W Africa.
  • O. a. antarcticus (Lesson, 1831) – Red Sea, Persian Gulf and S Indian Subcontinent S to Seychelles, Aldabra, Madagascar and Mascarenes, and perhaps Maldives.
  • O. a. anaethetus (Scopoli, 1786) – extreme S Japan (S Ryukyu Is) and Taiwan S through Philippines and Indonesia to New Guinea and Australia, and E through New Caledonia and Fiji to American Samoa.
  • O. a. nelsoni (Ridgway, 1919) – W coast of Mexico and Central America.
  • Descriptive notes

    35–38 cm; 95–150 g (Great Barrier Reef 125–135, average 131); wingspan 76–81 cm. Semi-pelagic tern with long, deeply forked tail and long, narrow... read more


    Only vocal where nesting. Adults give a mellow "kowk kowk" or "kwawk kwawk", and a harder "kahrr".


    Pantropical, occurring on tropical and subtropical coasts. Breeds on coral beaches and rocky and... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mainly surface-schooling fish (93%) and squid; 97% of fish less than 6 cm; also crustaceans; occasionally aquatic insects. Selects various... read more


    Nesting is during May–June in the S Caribbean and W Africa, May/June–August in the Red Sea and E Africa, July–August in... read more


    Widespread at sea within the breeding range. Birds from the West Indies and Atlantic probably... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). The global population is unknown, but probably exceeds 1 million individuals. Race antarcticus (Red Sea & Indian... read more

    Recommended citation

    Gochfeld, M., Burger, J., Kirwan, G.M. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2020). Bridled Tern (Onychoprion anaethetus). 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 January 2020).