Status: Rare summer visitor from April to late August to shingle or sandy beaches, mainly on the east and west coasts.
Conservation Concern: Amber-listed due to a decline in the localised breeding population. The European population has been evaluated as Declining, due to a moderate continuing decline.
Identification: The smallest of the terns breeding in Ireland. Small slender seabird with narrow, pointed wings, long forked tail and long, pointed bill. Grey above and white below, dark cap to head, white forehead in all plumages. Flight is light and buoyant, hovers rapidly while foraging over the sea before repeatedly diving in. Has a dark leading edge to the primaries of its long narrow wings. Adult summer bird has long yellow bill with black tip. In winter plumage the white of the forehead extends up over the fore crown, the legs darken and the bill is all black. Juvenile plumage is distinct from the adult with dark bill, barred mantle and dark upper forewing.
Similar Species: Common Tern.
Call: Sharp, rasping and repeated.
Diet: Chiefly marine fish.
Breeding: Nest colonially on the ground on shingle beaches, making them very vulnerable to poor weather and ground predators. Only a few colonies are found in Ireland, with the majority breeding in Counties Louth, Wicklow and Wexford.
Wintering: Winters in coastal areas in western Africa.
Where to See: Kilcoole in County Wicklow, just south of Greystones with about 50 to 60 pairs breeding along the beach..
Monitored by: All Ireland tern survey in 1995. Also as part of breeding seabird surveys carried out every 15-20 years, the last was Seabird 2000, which was undertaken between 1998 & 2002. Little Terns are also monitored annually at Kilcoole.