Status: Summer visitor to all Irish coasts from March to September. Winters in small numbers in Galway Bay and Strangford Lough.
Conservation Concern: Amber-listed in Ireland due to its localised breeding population. The European population has been assessed as Depleted, due to a moderate historical decline.
Identification: Usually seen over the sea. Relatively slender seabird with narrow, pointed wings, long, forked tail and long, pointed bill. Grey above and white below, dark cap to head. Flight light and buoyant, will hover briefly over the sea before diving in. The largest of the terns in Ireland, similar in size to Black-headed Gull. Told from other terns by its size and longer bill. Has a small yellow tip to its dark bill, which at closer quarters confirms identification. Distinct dark wedge to wing tip. Winter plumage, like all terns is different from breeding plumage, a white forehead develops in June/July. Juvenile plumage different from adult plumage with barred upperparts and darker wings.
Similar Species: Other tern species and Black-headed Gull.
Call: A loud grating call, heard from colonies and whilst in flight.
Diet: Mainly surface dwelling fish, taken from shallow dive.
Breeding: Nest colonially on the ground, mainly on the coast but with some colonies inland. Nests on islands, shingle spits and sand dunes. Populations of colonies fluctuate dramatically between years. Present in Ireland from March to September, with occasional winter records.
Wintering: Winters in southern Europe and Africa. Irish breeders have been recorded as far away as the Indian Ocean. About 10 to 15 birds winter in Galway Bay and Strangford Lough.
Where to See: The main colony in the Republic is at Lady's Island, near Rosslare, in County Wexford, with up to several hundred breeding pairs.
Monitored by: All-Ireland tern survey in 1995. Also through breeding seabird surveys carried out every 15-20 years, the last was Seabird 2000, which was undertaken between 1998 & 2002. Sandwich Terns are also monitored annually at Lady's Island Lake.