Whiskered tern -- 须浮鸥 (Chlidonias hybrida)

Whiskered tern, dorsal view
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Whiskered tern fact file

Whiskered tern description

GenusChlidonias (1)

A more slender bird than many other tern species, this fork-tailed, marsh-dwelling bird has two distinct plumages (4). In breeding or summer plumage, the whiskered tern has a dark grey body, white cheeks and a black crown (5). In winter, the plumage turns white on the underside and pale grey on the upperparts (5). The forehead also turns white and the remainder of the crown becomes flecked with white thus appearing grey. The bill and legs of the whiskered tern are red, a striking feature that allows this species to be distinguished from other terns (5). Juvenile whiskered terns have a white underbelly, with a gingery back speckled with dark black and brown (5).

Chlidonias hybridus.
Guifette moustac.
Wingspan: 74 – 78 cm (2)
83 – 100 g (2)

Whiskered tern biology

The breeding season of the whiskered tern extends from May to early June in Europe (3), November to December in Australia, and December in Tanzania (4), during which time it lives in loose colonies of between 10 and 10,000 pairs (3) (6). Each pair constructs a nest, which is actually a raft of vegetation that either sits on the bottom of very shallow water or floats on the surface of slightly deeper water (4), with each nest situated between one and five metres apart from other nests (3) (4). Like nest building, incubation of the eggs and care of the hatchlings is shared by the male and female (6). Most northern populations of the whiskered tern are fully migratory and will leave for their wintering grounds after breeding, where they will remain until April or May (3). Tropical populations of the whiskered tern do not undertake large, seasonal migrations (3).

The whiskered tern feeds on crustaceans such as shrimps, amphibians such as frogs, small fish, insects and insect larvae (3) (6). It commonly forages in large mixed species flocks or in small groups, but occasionally it will search for food independently (3). Feeding in a large colony, whiskered terns will collectively attack any animal that appears to be posing a threat (6). Other bird species sometimes nest within a whiskered term colony so as to take advantage of this anti-predator behaviour (6).


Whiskered tern range

The whiskered tern breeds in a number of areas in southern Europe, India, south-west and south-east Asia, south-east Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Populations that breed in cooler northern locations migrate south for winter, to tropical Africa, India or Indonesia, a journey that can cover up to 5,000 miles (2).  


Whiskered tern habitat

The whiskered tern lives mainly in inland marshes, pools and lakes, where there is substantial vegetation (4). It feeds over lakes, marshes, costal lagoons, tidal mudflats and estuaries, as well as rice fields and other farm fields (4).


Whiskered tern status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Whiskered tern threats

The whiskered tern is currently not considered to be threatened with extinction (1). Despite this, however, it does encounter threats in some areas of the world. In Italy, coypus (invasive rodents) destroy whiskered tern nests; in India, humans collect and sell its eggs, and in the Ukraine the eggs are collected by fishermen (3).


Whiskered tern conservation

In some areas of the world specific breeding sites for the whiskered tern have been set up, including two Special Protection Areas for whiskered terns in the Medzibodrozie and Senne areas of Slovakia (7).

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View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

Find out more about the Special Protection Areas for the whiskered tern at:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:



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This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


Cold-blooded vertebrates of the class Amphibia, such as frogs or salamanders, which characteristically hatch as aquatic larvae with gills. The larvae then transform into adults with air-breathing lungs.
Diverse group of arthropods (a phylum of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton) characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (parts of the mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, slaters, woodlice and barnacles.
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.


  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
  2. Mead, C. and Ogilvie, M. (2007) The Atlas of Bird Migrations: Tracing the Great Journeys of the World’s Birds. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  3. BirdLife International (March, 2010)
  4. Del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  5. Bakaria, F., Rizi, H., Ziane, N., Chabi, Y. and Bańbura, J. (2002) Breeding ecology of whiskered terns in Algeria, North Africa. Waterbirds: The International Journal of Waterbird Biology, 25(1): 56-62. 
  6. Birds in Backyards (November, 2009)
  7. Life Nature Project (November, 2009)

Image credit

Whiskered tern, dorsal view  
Whiskered tern, dorsal view

© Christophe Perelle / Biosphoto

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