Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

Large-billed Tern (Phaetusa simplex)


French: Sterne à gros bec German: Großschnabel-Seeschwalbe Spanish: Charrán picudo

Sterna simplex

J. F. Gmelin

, 1789,



Morphometric analysis does not provide clear evidence of relationship to other terns or gulls, but apparently most similar to Thalasseus. Race chloropoda often regarded as unworthy of recognition#R. Two subspecies tentatively recognized here.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. s. simplex (J. F. Gmelin, 1789) – E Colombia E to Trinidad, and S through Amazonia; formerly W Ecuador.
  • P. s. chloropoda (Vieillot, 1819) – basins of R Paraguay and R Paraná SW to NC Argentina (Santiago del Estero, very rarely Córdoba).
  • Descriptive notes

    38–42 cm; 208–247 g. Unmistakable large, relatively short-tailed tern, with very heavy yellow bill, and striking wing pattern; crown to ear-coverts black;... read more


    Raspy “kree” and “kew” notes, often given as a series.


    Occupies broad (and occasionally narrow) inland rivers and lakes, breeding on beaches and sandbars... read more

    Food and feeding

    Fish 4–12 cm long; also insects. Feeds mainly by plunge-diving from 6–11 m; also by contact-dipping (swooping c. 2 m over water... read more


    May–Jun and Oct–Dec in N of range, Aug–Sept in Argentina. Nests singly or in groups of up to 100 pairs, mainly on... read more


    Winters on rivers and on coast. Common throughout year on Guianan coast, with smaller numbers May... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Very widespread E of Andes, and common along the length of R Orinoco. Available population estimates are rough guesses but nominate... read more

    Recommended citation

    Gochfeld, M., Burger, J., Kirwan, G.M. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2020). Large-billed Tern (Phaetusa simplex). 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).