White Tern

Gygis alba rothschildi
whitetern in flight

The entire body is white with a black eye-ring creating the appearance of large eyes. The thick bill is mostly black with blue at the base. Legs and feet are slate blue, with yellow to white webs. The tail is shallowly notched.

In 1984, about 7,500 breeding pairs nested on Sand and Eastern Islands, the largest population in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The white tern is the smallest tern species found at Midway Atoll. Breed throughout tropical and subtropical Pacific, Indian, and South Atlantic Oceans.

Breeding begins at age 3-5. Peak breeding activity takes placed in late spring and summer. No nest is built and a single speckled egg is laid on a small depression on a branch, roof or other surface. Incubation period averages 36 days.

Both parents incubate the egg. Incubation shifts range between 48-72 hours. After hatching, the brooded chick is fed about every three hours. Unlike many other seabird chicks that receive regurgitated food, only whole fish or squid is fed. Sharp clawed feet enable this chick to hang on to branches in high winds.

Chicks average 48 days from hatching to fledging. After fledging, chicks move farther away from nest site, returning only to feed. Post-fledging feeding continues for about two months.

Facts About White Tern

Feed primarily on juvenile or smaller fish (e.g., goat-fish, flying fish, dolphin fish, half-beaks and needle-fish). Feeds alone or in mixed species flocks. Dives down to surface for prey, but does not submerge. This bird carries prey crosswise in its bill.
Life Span
16 to 18 years
Length: 28-33 cm (11-13 in); wingspan: 70-87 cm (27.5-34 in)