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; 172–196 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 the non-breeding season the Argentine Anchovy ... read more


The timing of the breeding season differs markedly with latitude. Laying has been reported in April–June in Brazil (Espírito... read more


Present in Tierra del Fuego in November–April, where a few birds remain all year. After... read more

Status and conservation

Not globally threatened (Least Concern). The global population remains inadequately documented but there are some very large colonies. It has been reported as abundant on the... read more

Recommended citation

Gochfeld, M., Burger, J., de Juana, E. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2017). 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 20 November 2017).