Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

Saunders's Tern (Sternula saundersi)


French: Sterne de Saunders German: Orientseeschwalbe Spanish: Charrancito de Saunders

Sterna Saundersi

A. O. Hume

, 1877,



Closely related to S. albifrons, S. antillarum, S. superciliaris and S. lorata. Sometimes considered conspecific with S. albifrons, or made a subspecies of form sinensis when latter treated as a full species. Monotypic.


Breeds in Red Sea (N to at least Yanbu) S to Socotra and S Somalia and off Saudi Arabia and Oman, along coasts of Persian Gulf and locally E to NW India; Sri Lanka (mainly in NW and possibly E); large numbers throughout year at Addu Atoll (Maldives), where probably breeds in Apr with other terns, and probably also on Amirantes and possibly Seychelles. Winters from Red Sea S to Tanzania and Madagascar and E to India (where details of winter range unclear), and probably in Seychelles and off Malay Peninsula.

Descriptive notes

20–28 cm; 40–45 g; wingspan 50–55 cm. Extremely similar to S. albifrons, from which distinguished by: straight upper border to white forehead (... read more


Call is disyllabic and described as stronger than in S. albifrons, slightly recalling ... read more


Coasts, estuaries, and tidal lagoons; rare inland.

Food and feeding

Small fish, crustaceans and molluscs; also various insects. Feeds mainly by plunge-diving, often preceded by long bouts of hovering.


Very few data available. The breeding season commences in May in Karachi (Pakistan) and Sri Lanka; from Apr in Red Sea; in the Persian Gulf... read more


Movements not well understood. NE African birds move south as far as Tanzania and Madagascar in... read more

Status and conservation

Not globally threatened (Least Concern). The global population is not fully known. The Arabian breeding population numbers some 4000 pairs, 500 of which are on the Socotran... read more

Recommended citation

Gochfeld, M., Burger, J. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Saunders's Tern (Sternula saundersi). 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 10 December 2019).