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White Tern

Gygis alba
White terns

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.

They breed throughout tropical and subtropical Pacific, Indian, and South Atlantic Oceans.

Breeding begins at age 3-5. 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 can be as long as 72 hours in some colonies. After hatching, the brooded chick is fed about every three hours. Unlike many other seabird chicks that receive regurgitated food, white terns carry fish or squid in their bill and feed them whole to their chicks. Sharp clawed feet enable the chicks 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 meet up with their parents for a meal. 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)
Page Photo Credits — USFWS
Last Updated: Feb 27, 2014
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