Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

Little Tern (Sternula albifrons)


French: Sterne naine German: Zwergseeschwalbe Spanish: Charrancito común

Sterna albifrons


, 1764,



Closely related to S. saundersi, S. antillarum, S. superciliaris and S. lorata (and possibly also S. balaenarum). Some works treat S. antillarum, and sometimes S. saundersi, as conspecific with present species. Apparent hybridization with S. nereis in S Australia indicates possible close relationship; long-term study of relationships required. Form sinensis sometimes treated as a separate species (with pusilla either synonymized with it or included as a race). Race innominata subsumed within nominate. Validity of placens questionable and has been regarded as a synonym of sinensis. Five subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • S. a. albifrons (Pallas, 1764) – Europe through W Asia E to (at least) Afghanistan#R, also Atlantic coastal Morocco, the Mediterranean coast of N Africa and islands in Persian Gulf; winters on coasts from Africa E to W India.
  • S. a. guineae (Bannerman, 1931) – Ghana to Gabon and along R Niger and major tributaries, with marginal population in Mauritania and Senegal.
  • S. a. pusilla (Temminck, 1839) – N India and Myanmar, and islands off Sumatra and Java.
  • S. a. sinensis (J. F. Gmelin, 1789) – Sri Lanka; SE Russia, China, Japan, SE Asia and Philippines to N Australia; recent colonist from Micronesia (Saipan)#R E to Hawaii most likely this race#R,#R, and also some birds in New Britain and Solomons (Bougainville and perhaps Santa Isabel); N populations winter mostly in Malaysia.
  • S. a. placens Gould, 1871 – E Australia and E Tasmania; some dispersal N to N Australia, possibly also to as far as Indonesia and SW Pacific.
  • Descriptive notes

    22–28 cm; 47–63 g (mean 50 g, Ukraine); wingspan 47–55 cm. Typical small tern: small, with white forehead, black cap and lores, grey back and wings, white... read more


    Commonly gives a distinctive, rasping “kriet”. Alarm or display call is a rapid chattering “kerre-... read more


    Inhabits subtropical to temperate regions, reaching 2000 m in Armenia. Continental populations are... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mainly small fish and crustaceans (3–6 cm), also insects, annelids and molluscs. Fish taken include sandeels (Ammodytes),... read more


    Seasonal but extended in some regions. In W Africa, at Banc d’Arguin, Mauritania, clutches are laid mid Mar to mid Jul, peaking mid... read more


    Most Paleartcic breeders are migratory and winter S of breeding range, chiefly in tropics. Those... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Global population not known with any precision as there are no census data for races pusilla and sinensis, but it... read more

    Recommended citation

    Gochfeld, M., Burger, J. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2019). Little Tern (Sternula albifrons). 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 12 December 2019).