Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii)


French: Sterne de Dougall German: Rosenseeschwalbe Spanish: Charrán rosado

Sterna Dougallii


, 1813,

Firth of Clyde, Scotland


In some respects intermediate between Sterna and Thalasseus. Genetic data#R indicate that present species, S. hirundinacea, S. hirundo, S. paradisaea and S. vittata may form a monophyletic group that also includes Old World S. striata and S. sumatrana, with S. forsteri and S. trudeaui possibly also part of this group. May hybridize with S. hirundo and S. paradisaea. Internal taxonomy long in need of revision, as subspecific boundaries confused; variation of nominate encompasses almost entire range of variation of the species. Races arideensis, korustes and bangsi synonymized with gracilis based in part on results of detailed but as yet unpublished genetic study#R. Two subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • S. d. dougallii Montagu, 1813 – Nova Scotia to New York and Florida, S through Gulf of Honduras and West Indies to islands off N Venezuela. Has bred Mexico#R. Also Azores, NW Europe, and E & S Africa from S Somalia to Tanzania and in Western and Eastern Cape Provinces; American populations may winter mainly in mid-Atlantic, while E Atlantic ones winter on coasts of tropical W Africa.
  • S. d. gracilis Gould, 1845 – Seychelles S to Madagascar and E to Rodrigues I; Arabian Sea, W & SE India, Sri Lanka, Andaman Is, Mergui Archipelago (off extreme S Myanmar) and Cocos (Keeling) Is; Ryukyu Is (Japan), coastal China and Taiwan S to Greater Sundas, Moluccas and Australia, and E to S New Guinea, Solomons, New Caledonia and possibly Fiji, E to Tuamotu Is.
  • Descriptive notes

    33–43 cm; 90–125 g (mean 110 g, New York); wingspan 72–80 cm. Very pale typical tern with very long tail streamers; forehead to nape black; mantle and... read more


    Vocal at nesting colony and in feeding flocks. Frequent contact calls include “pink” and “ki-rik”... read more


    Exclusively marine. Breeds on sandy, rocky or coral islands, often with dense vegetation in... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet much less varied than that of S. hirundo, with which it often nests: almost exclusively small fish, rarely insects and marine... read more


    Apr in W Australia, India, Sri Lanka and Madagascar, May–Jun in NE USA and Europe, Jun in Somalia, Jul–Aug in Kenya and... read more


    Palearctic birds winter W Africa, mainly between Guinea and Gabon; birds usually remain in tropics... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Global population in 2017 estimated at c. 200,000–220,000 individuals. Distribution is cosmopolitan but species breeds at... read more

    Recommended citation

    Gochfeld, M., Burger, J. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2020). Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii). 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 21 February 2020).