Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)


Fairy Tern (Sternula nereis)


French: Sterne néréis German: Australseeschwalbe Spanish: Charrancito australiano

Sternula nereis


, 1843,

Bass Strait, Australia


Overlaps in SE Australia with S. albifrons, the two occasionally hybridizing. Race horni often included in nominate#R. Four subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • S. n. horni Mathews, 1912 – Western Australia.
  • S. n. nereis Gould, 1843 – South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania.
  • S. n. exsul Mathews, 1912 – New Caledonia.
  • S. n. davisae Mathews & Iredale, 1913 – N North I, in New Zealand.
  • Descriptive notes

    22–27 cm; 57 g; wingspan 45–51 cm. Forehead and lores white, white not extending behind eye; crown and nape black, extending just forward of eye as dark spot on... read more


    A hard, loud "tchi-wick". Also an excited "kirrikiki-kirrikiki" and a rapid "ket-ket-ket-ket".


    Coasts, occasionally inland. Breeds on sandy or coral islands and extensive coastal dunes. Forages... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mainly small fish, also gastropods and crustaceans. The main prey in New Zealand are gobies Favonigobius spp. but terns... read more


    The breeding season in Australia is September–January, beginning from early September in the north to late September in the... read more


    Tasmanian breeders and some from S Australia migrate N. Some from W Australia sedentary, others... read more

    Status and conservation

    VULNERABLE. In southern Australia the nominate form was censused in 2009 and numbered 1200–1980 birds.  Race horni was formerly common in Western... read more

    Recommended citation

    Gochfeld, M., Burger, J. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2019). Fairy Tern (Sternula nereis). 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 14 November 2019).