Belongs to: terns

Compare with: arctic tern

Common tern Sterna hirundo

BoCC Amber list

Best time to see: mid Apr to mid Sep

Key facts

Widespread summer visitor to UK, increasingly seen at inland sites as well as along the coast

Nests on sand and shingle beaches, on saltmarsh, and on rafts, including on reservoirs and in Docklands!

Several hundred pairs in Essex, arriving in April and flying south for the winter in August or September


Pale grey upperparts, white below, black cap, red bill with black tip and red legs; 35 cm

Flies with buoyant, floating flight, often plunge diving into the sea to catch fish


Nest is a unlined hollow on a beach or saltmarsh at the coast and increasingly in gravel pits; also takes readily to rafts

One or possibly 2 broods May to June; 2–3 creamy eggs blotched black

Very aggressive when breeding, dive-bombing intruders with a harsh 'keey-arr' call

© Alan Williams

© Gerald Downey