Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

Common White Tern (Gygis alba)


French: Gygis blanche German: Feenseeschwalbe Spanish: Charrán blanco común
Other common names: White Tern, Atoll Tern (when lumped with G. microrhyncha)

Sterna alba


, 1786,

Ascension Island


G. microrhyncha here separated as a distinct species. Internal taxonomy extremely confusing, with correct subspecific allocations and limits frequently unclear and disputed; some authors have preferred to recognize several additional races, including royana (of Norfolk I and Kermadec Is), kittlitzi (Caroline Is), pacifica (Melanesia and other islands of S Pacific) and rothschildi (Hawaii), all of which herein included in candida, but all are sometimes referred instead to nominate race. Birds of Seychelles and Mascarenes described as race monte, but not reliably separable from candida. Three subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • G. a. alba (Sparrman, 1786) – S Atlantic islands (Fernando de Noronha, Trindade, Ascension, St Helena).
  • G. a. candida (J. F. Gmelin, 1789) – Seychelles and Mascarenes through Indian Ocean to SC & EC Pacific, including Norfolk I and Kermadec Is, Caroline Is, Hawaii, Marquesas Is, and W Mexico (Clipperton I), W Costa Rica (Cocos I) and probably W Colombia (Malpelo).
  • G. a. leucopes Holyoak & Thibault, 1976 – Henderson I and Pitcairn I (SE Pacific).
  • Descriptive notes

    25–30 cm; 87–157 g; wingspan 76–87 cm. Most ethereal of seabirds; entire plumage immaculate white, with black ring around eye and dusky flight-feather... read more


    Vocal at nest-sites, giving guttural chattering notes, e.g. “heech, heech...”, “grrich-grrich-... read more


    Coral islands, usually with vegetation. Nests in trees and bushes, and on rocky slopes and cliffs;... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mainly small fish, occasionally squid and crustaceans, and some marine insects (Halobates sea skaters). At Kiritimati (Christmas I... read more


    Eggs laid all months with most (86%) in Dec–May (peak Mar) in Hawaii, also all year, but peaking Apr and Aug on Kiritimati, and May... read more


    Resident year-round on some islands, seasonal visitor on others, e.g. in NW Hawaiian Is most adults... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). World population unknown, but exceeds 100,000 pairs, of which > 10,000 pairs in SW Indian Ocean (probably many more), mostly on... read more

    Recommended citation

    Gochfeld, M., Burger, J., Christie, D.A. & Kirwan, G.M. (2020). Common White Tern (Gygis alba). 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 10 April 2020).