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Common Tern

Sterna hirundo


Sea Swallow

Status: Summer visitor from March to October to all Irish coasts.

Conservation Concern: Amber-listed in Ireland due to its localised breeding population. The European population has been evaluated as Secure.

Identification: Usually seen over the sea or over large inland lakes. 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, can hover briefly over the sea before diving in. Very similar to Artic Tern (with which it breeds) and told apart by plumage and structure. Common Tern has a longer head and bill and slightly broader wings, which look central on the body. Adults have a orangey red bill, usually with a small dark tip. Underparts are whiter than Artic Tern and there is no contrast with cheek. The wing pattern is useful in separation, Common tern shows a dark wedge in the primaries which develops over the summer and a defuse bar to the trailing edge of the primaries. Common terns have shorter tail steamers, not extending beyond the wing tips. Adult winter plumage, like all terns is different from breeding plumage and can develop in the summer months. Has a white forehead, all dark bill and dark carpel bar. Also has distinctive juvenile plumage with gingery mantle, a dark secondary bar and dark carpel bar. Bill base is orange. Shows a diffuse trailing edge to the primaries. First and second summer plumages are rarely seen in Europe.

Similar Species: Arctic and Roseate Terns.

Call: A noisy bird when breeding, giving a rapid series of quarrelsome calls.

Diet: Chiefly fish.

Breeding: Nest colonially on the ground from April to October. Breeds on the coast, with larger colonies in Co. Dublin, Co. Wexford and Co. Galway. Also breeds inland on islets in freshwater lakes, notably in Co. Galway and in Co. Mayo.

Wintering: Winters in west and south Africa.

Where to See: Lady's Island Lake, near Rosslare, in County Wexford. As well as other tern species.

Monitored by: All-Ireland tern survey in 1995, and through breeding seabird surveys carried out every 15-20 years, the last was Seabird 2000, which was undertaken between 1998 & 2002. Common Terns are also monitored annually at Rockabill and Lady's Island Lake.

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