Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Near Threatened

Kerguelen Tern (Sterna virgata)


French: Sterne des Kerguelen German: Kerguelenseeschwalbe Spanish: Charrán de las Kerguelen

Sterna virgata


, 1875,

Kerguelen Island


Sympatric with S. vittata, but different phenology and feeding niche. Race mercuri separated principally on basis of more restricted grey area on forehead (non-breeders) and bare-part differences, but distinctions subtle; species often treated as monotypic. Two subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • S. v. mercuri  Voisin, 1971 – Prince Edward and Marion Is, and Crozet Is.
  • S. v. virgata Cabanis, 1875 – Kerguelen Is (reported breeding on Heard I erroneous).
  • Non-breeders remain close to breeding areas throughout year.

    Descriptive notes

    33 cm; wingspan 71 cm. Forehead to nape black; upperparts, including uppertail-coverts, smoky grey, with contrasting white rump; outer tail streamers grey, tail greyish;... read more


    Calls include a harsh "chittick" and a long drawn out "keeeaaar".


    Rocky, volcanic islands. Breeds on sparsely vegetated flat ground, either cliff tops or river flats... read more

    Food and feeding

    Fish, crustaceans, molluscs, earthworms, insects and spiders. Diet changes seasonally from mainly crustaceans in Sept, fish in Nov, insects... read more


    Virtually unstudied. Returns to colony in Sept, and begins laying mid-Oct, continuing until Jan; peak breeding early Nov to mid-Dec, 2... read more


    Sedentary. Remains around breeding sites. Movement away from islands not documented.

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Currently considered Near Threatened, and previously, Vulnerable. The global population has been estimated at 3,500–6,500 individuals.... read more

    Recommended citation

    Gochfeld, M., Burger, J. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2020). Kerguelen Tern (Sterna virgata). 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 27 February 2020).