Common Tern - Sterna hirundo


These delightful silvery-grey and white birds have long tails, which have earned them the nickname 'sea-swallow'. They have a buoyant, graceful flight and frequently hover over water before plunging down for a fish. They are often noisy in company and breed in colonies. They have a black tip to their red beaks, a feature which helps to distinguish them from the very similar Arctic Tern.

Similar Species

Similar to Arctic Tern which has an all red bill lacking the black tip of Common Tern

Identification difficulty

Breeds along coasts with shingle beaches and rocky islands, on rivers with shingle bars, and at inland gravel pits and reservoirs, feeding along rivers and over freshwater. Migrating birds can be seen offshore in the autumn.

When to see it

Throughout the summer - they arrive in April and leave in August and September. They are most obvious when feeding young, as they will fly some distance for food, returning to the nest site with a fish.

Life History

Common terns are known to reach an age of 23 years or more. It is very defensive of its nest and young and will attack humans and other large predators, but unlike the more aggressive Arctic Tern rarely hits the intruder, usually swerving off at the last moment.

UK Status

Fairly frequent particularly in coastal locations

VC55 Status

Uncommon in Leicestershire and Rutland as a breeding bird, slightly more frequent as a bird of passage.

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Leicestershire & Rutland Map


Yellow squares = NBN records (all known data)
Coloured circles = NatureSpot records: 2020+ | 2015-2019 | pre-2015

UK Map