Sandwich Tern - Sterna sandvicensis


Medium-sized pale tern withblack cap and crest, long slender bill, long pointed wings and moderately long, forked tail; back and upperwings pale ash-grey; rump and tail white; underparts white, sometimes tinged with pink; primaries with white inner webs and silvery outer webs; bill black with yellow tip.  Non-breeding adult has white forehead and forecrown.  In flight the upperwing is pale grey with a dark trailing outer edge, which develops further with wear.  The immature’s upperwing is more contrasting with darker primaries, coverts and secondary bar.  The immature bill is all dark, which may also apply to some birds during their first spring.

Similar Species

Unmistakable if seen well but could potentially be confused with Gull-billed Tern, which has not be recorded in VC55.

Identification difficulty

In Britain it is a summer visitor nesting at traditional coastal localities, forming dense colonies and often associating with other terns or Black-heded Gulls.  British birds usually winter in coastal West Africa.

When to see it

It has been recorded in VC55 between March and October with most records occurring during August and September.

Life History

Breeding May to June in Europe with prolonged parental care into first-winter.  It migrates mainly along coast moving south along the west coast of Africa and wintering in the tropics.

There are three races, one in Europe and two in North America and the Caribbean.  The American races winters along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Central and northern South America.

UK Status

It is a common summer breeder at traditional nesting sites.

VC55 Status

It is a scarce passage visitor; recorded in all months between March and October, with the majority in August and September.

be our species champion

Leicestershire & Rutland Map


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

UK Map