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Black-fronted tern | tarapirohe

Status: Nationally Endangered

Black-fronted tern nesting
Black-fronted tern nesting

The black-fronted tern | tarapirohe is seen from the southern tip of the North Island, and along much of the eastern South Island from Marlborough to Southland and to Stewart Island. There is an outlying population along the Buller and upper Motueka Rivers in southern Nelson. The breeding range is restricted to the South Island. While most terns are seabirds, the black-fronted tern black-fronted tern | tarapirohe lives and breeds inland along riverbanks and can forage out to 10 km at sea in the non-breeding season in autumn and winter.


The black-fronted tern (Chlidonias albostriatus) also known as the riverbed tern or tarapiroe (Māori), is a medium to small tern endemic (unique) to New Zealand, measuring 28-29cm and weighing 95grams. It is unique amongst terns in that it is the only one to breed exclusively inland. They nest in colonies on open shingle or small islands in the river.

Predominantly grey plumage over most of the body with black cap extending down over the eyes to the bright red-orange beak. During the non-breeding season the black cap recedes from the bill and becomes flecked with white. The underparts and rump are white, and there is a thin white streak running along the cheeks underneath the cap. The legs are orange.

black fronted tern

Population trends

black-fronted tern | tarapirohe evolved to breed on weed-free shingle islands and banks on braided rivers. Their numbers have been declining rapidly for reasonably well-understood reasons outlined here.


Image: Colin O'Donnell ( DOC).
Image: Colin O’Donnell ( DOC).

Conservation efforts

Field research on key rivers has led to multiple projects, many ongoing, to determine the causes and best practices needed required to reverse the decline in population. As each river is different, often hosting different predator guilds, a one-size-fits-all approach to management is not possible. Nevertheless, lessons learned from each river and ongoing research is helping to create a suite of management options. The following summarises these efforts on different rivers.

Waiau Toa / Clarence River: Over five years more than $500,000 was spent around the three breeding colonies of black-fronted tern | tarapirohe on conservation land neighbouring Molesworth Station between Jacks Pass and the Acheron River. Follow-up projects have improved the breeding success (videos 1 and 2). See also:

Video 1: Short (5-min) video outlining the threats and recent successful management strategies (June 2022)
Video 2: Braided Rivers Seminar presentation (June 2022)

 Upper Rangitata River

Trapping work in areas such as the Upper Rangitata River
Video 4 : aerial footage over research are on the Lower Waitaki River, showing where islands were cleared of weeds
MacKenzie Basin (Aoraki Mt Cook; Tasman and other rivers)
Video 6: Braided Rivers 2022 seminar presentation

More information

black fronted tern

Research and references