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Roseate tern on a rock

Roseate tern

Sterna dougallii

Roseate terns are one of this country’s rarest breeding birds with only about 100 pairs in the UK, almost all of which are based in Northumberland. Although we sometimes see them passing through on the way to and from West Africa, it’s highly unusual to see them attempting to breed on our coastline.⠀

Roseate terns are slender, delicately built seabirds: a similar size to a common tern. They are named for the very faint rosy flush to their summer plumage – but beware, the colour isn’t usually as obvious and you can often be hard-pressed to spot it at all. ⠀

More noticeably they have very long, forked tails and flexible tail streamers that extend beyond their wingtips when at rest. They also have a thin, sharp bill which is black with a noticeably red base. ⠀

Conservation status

Roseate terns are red listed in the UK.

They are a qualifying feature for the Solent and Southampton Water Special Protection Area – that means, when the site was designated, it supported a nationally significant number of the species.

Did you know?

While we usually only see roseate terns on their way to and from Western Africa and their more northerly breeding grounds, in 2024 a pair settled to breed on at the Lymington Keyhaven Nature Reserve.