Little Tern

Sterna albifrons


Living up to its name, the little tern is the UK's smallest tern and can be seen nesting on gravelly beaches in small colonies. They feed just offshore, hovering above the water before diving in to catch their prey - mainly small fish. A summer visitor to Europe, the little tern migrates to Africa from August onwards to spend the winter.

How to identify

Silvery-grey above and white below, the little tern has a black cap and a white forehead. It has tiny, yellowy-orange legs and yellow bill with a black tip.

Where to find it

A summer visitor to gravelly beaches around the coast; large colonies are found on the east and south coasts of Scotland and in the north and east of England.


When to find it

  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September

How can people help

Little tern populations are declining due to habitat loss and because they are vulnerable to disturbance at their nesting sites. You can help this little seabird by being careful not to disturb them when visiting beaches with nesting colonies. The Wildlife Trusts are working with fishermen, researchers, politicians and local people towards a vision of 'Living Seas' where marine wildlife thrives. This work has recently had a massive boost with the passing of the Marine Bill, promising sustainable development of the UK's marine environment. Do your bit for our Living Seas by supporting your local Wildlife Trust.

Species information

Common name
Little Tern
Latin name
Sterna albifrons
Gulls and seabirds
Length: 22-24cm Wingspan: 52cm Weight: 56g Average Lifespan: 12 years
Conservation status
Classified in the UK as an Amber List species under the Birds of Conservation Concern review.