Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

South American Tern (Sterna hirundinacea)


French: Sterne hirundinacée German: Falklandseeschwalbe Spanish: Charrán suramericano

Sterna hirundinacea


, 1831,

Santa Catarina, Brazil


Genetic data#R indicate that present species, S. dougallii, 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. Monotypic.


Coasts of SC Peru (Ica) and CE Brazil (Espírito Santo) S to Tierra del Fuego, including Falkland Is. In austral winter extends N to Ecuador and Bahia (CE Brazil).

Descriptive notes

41–43 cm; 170–220 g; wingspan 84–86 cm. A typical Sterna, with black cap and pale grey upperparts; underparts pale grey, contrasting somewhat with... read more


In flight often gives a short, sharp, high-pitched, clear “kyik”. Very noisy at colonies; birds... read more


Almost exclusively coastal. Breeds on sandy and rocky beaches, tops of cliffs, and often on small... read more

Food and feeding

Small fish and crustaceans; probably also takes insects. In Argentina, during non-breeding season Argentine anchovy (Engraulis anchoita... read more


Season varies markedly with latitude. Laying has been reported in April–Jun in Brazil (Espírito Santo to Santa Catarina),... read more


Present in Tierra del Fuego in Nov–Apr, where a few birds remain all year. After breeding,... read more

Status and conservation

Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Global population remains inadequately documented but there are some very large colonies. Reportedly abundant on Argentine coast... read more

Recommended citation

Gochfeld, M., Burger, J., de Juana, E. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2020). South American Tern (Sterna hirundinacea). 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 3 April 2020).