Generic filters

Common tern

What am I?

The common tern is a medium-sized tern and the one you are most likely to see inland, as well as at the coast.

Common terns breed on shingle beaches, rocky islands and inland on the gravelly shores of lakes and rivers.

They are noisy in their colonies and, like most terns, will attack intruders threatening their nests. They hover over the water before plunge-diving to catch their fish prey.

How to spot them

Common terns and arctic terns can be very difficult to tell apart. The common tern is whiter below, has shorter tail streamers, and has a longer bill, which is orangey-red with a black tip. It is silvery-grey above, with a black cap and short, red legs.

Where to see them

Common tern can be seen around the coast and also inland at gravel pits, reservoirs and lakes. It nests in noisy colonies and can be spotted plunge-diving for fish. They are most obvious when feeding young as they will fly some distance for food, returning to the nest site with a fish.

Conservation status

The common tern is amber listed in the UK.

Did you know?

The common tern’s long tail ‘streamers’ (feathers extending past the main tail) have earned it the nickname ‘sea-swallow’.