Common Tern at Strumpshaw Fen by Elizabeth Dack 1/10
Common tern on post by Ray Jones 2/10
Common tern by Paul Taylor 3/10
Common Tern by Elizabeth Dack 4/10
Common tern by Pat Adams 5/10
Common tern carrying fish by Trevor Round 6/10
Juvenile common tern diving by Tabs Taberham 7/10
Juvenile common tern by Elizabeth Dack 8/10
Common tern hunting by David Savory 9/10
Common tern by Elizabeth Dack 10/10

Common tern Sterna hirundo

The common tern is a small, elegant seabird that comes to Britain to breed in both marine and freshwater habitats. Its breeding range includes much of the coastline where there are shingle beaches and also inland where there are shingle banks by rivers, gravel pits and reservoirs. It spends the winter in the southern hemisphere along the coasts of west and south Africa. It is sometimes known as the sea swallow due to its appearance and behaviour.

Conservation status

Common terns were brought to the edge of extinction at the end of the 19th century because of the use of their feathers in the millinery trade. Numbers recovered in response to protective legislation. The worldwide population is large but it is thought that their numbers in Britain are now decreasing. Common terns are classified in the UK as Amber under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015).

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Did you know? Common terns feed on small fish which they catch by hovering over the water and then plunging into the water to a depth of 1–2 metres. They will also fly just above the water with just their bill dipping into the water to locate fish, this is known as contact dipping.

Common terns lay their eggs in the shingle and nest in colonies sometimes with other terns like Arctic or Roseate. They will fly aggressively close to people’s heads if they encroach too close to their nest sites. Common and Arctic terns look very similar so some people join their names together and call them ‘Comic terns’.

Common terns were formerly referred to as the sea swallow.
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