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Caspian tern

Status: Nationally Vulnerable


Seen in many parts of the world, the Caspian tern (Hydroprogne caspia, formerly Sterna caspia*) is uncommon in New Zealand, with an estimated population of 1300-1400 breeding pairs. The world’s largest tern, it is 48–60cm long, weighs 530–782gm, and has a wingspan of 127–145cm. 

Adult birds have black legs and a long thick red-orange bill with a small black tip. Their head is white with a black cap (during breeding season) and white neck, belly and tail. The upper wings and back are pale grey; the underwings are pale with dark primary feathers. In flight, the tail is less forked than other terns and wing tips black on the underside. In winter, the black cap is streaked with a white forehead. They breed in large colonies, alone, and with other birds, mainly on open coastal shell banks and sandspits, and occasionally on braided riverbeds and at inland lakes.

Caspian tern (non-breeding plumage) with white-fronted tern in the foreground
Caspian tern (non-breeding plumage) with white-fronted tern in the foreground

More information

Conservation efforts

No specific conservation activities, although are likely to benefit from activities to protect other braided river birds.