Status: Rare summer visitor from April to October, the majority breeding at two sites in the Irish Sea, with another colony in Wexford.
Conservation Concern: Amber-listed in Ireland as the majority of the small European population breeds in the country. Further Amber-listing criteria are the small and highly localised nature of the breeding population. The European population has been evaluated as Rare, due to its small population (2,500 pairs).
Identification: Always seen over the sea. Slender seabird with narrow, pointed wings, long forked tail and long, pointed bill. Bill all dark with a red base when breeding. Grey above and white below, dark cap to head. Flight light and buoyant, can hover briefly over the sea before diving in, dives in with a distinctive angled powerful dive. A slight, elegant tern which is similar to Common and Arctic Terns. Told apart by flight action, more rapid and shallower wingbeats with shorter wings giving a more direct looking flight. Birds in adult summer plumage are very pale, much paler than other terns, with a faint rosy tinge to the upperparts. Legs are long and bright red. Tail steamers very long. Lacks dark trailing edge to primaries. Winter plumage, like all terns is different from breeding plumage. Adult winter plumage develops white forehead and dark carpal bar. Juvenile birds have bold patterns to upperparts with dark legs and bill. First winter birds similar to adults but with some retained juvenile feathers.
Similar Species: Other tern species.
Call: Calls either quick wader like "kerrick" (not unlike Sandwich Tern) or a deep, harsh "ach".
Diet: Chiefly marine fish.
Breeding: Nest colonially on the ground. Restricted to two main colonies in Ireland, one on the island of Rockabill, off Skerries, Co. Dublin and one at Lady's Island, near Rosslare, in Co. Wexford. Birds have bred at other sites recently, for example on Dalkey Island, Co. Dublin and on the Blasket Islands Co. Kerry. Rockabill holds the most important colony in Europe with up to 1,200 pairs of birds. The colony at Lady's Island is much smaller with around a hundred pairs.
Wintering: Winters in west Africa.
Where to See: The best chance of seeing this bird in Ireland is at Lady's Island, near Rosslare, in County Wexford or at the small, recently established colony on Maiden Rock, Dalkey, Co. Dublin. Rockabill Island itself is off limits to visitors.
Monitored by: Roseate Terns are monitored annually at their breeding colonies on Rockabill Island and Lady's Island Lake. Also 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. Sandwich Terns are also monitored annually at Lady's Island Lake.