White fronted tern

Status: Declining

White-fronted tern guarding nest, Waimakariri River
White-fronted tern guarding nest, Waimakariri River

The white-fronted tern is occasionally seen foraging up Canterbury rivers. It is more commonly seen around the coastline and coastal estuaries throughout New Zealand, nesting in large dense colonies on shingle river beds, sand dunes, stacks and cliffs (distribution map). 

Description

The white-fronted tern (Sterna striata) tara ((Māori), the most common tern in New Zealand including outlying islands, measures 42cm and weighs 160gm, which is about 50% larger than the endemic black-fronted tern.  Some birds, mostly immature, winter along the east coast of Australia.

Pale grey above and white below, with a long white forked-tail, a black cap separated from the long pointed black bill by a white band, and a narrow dark band on the outer edge of the first primary. Breeding adults have a black cap that extends from the white frontal strip down to the back of neck; non-breeding adults have a reduced cap leaving the forehead white. The bill is dark brown-black and legs are dark red-brown/black.

White-fronted tern with juvenile
White-fronted tern with juvenile

More information

Conservation efforts

Like the black-fronted tern and black-billed gull, the white-fronted tern is a long-lived bird,  so while it is classed as declining the rate of decline and juvenile recruitment into the breeding population is unknown. They have been known to nest with black-billed gulls and red-billed gulls. While no species-specific conservation projects are currently underway, conservation activities to protect other braided river bird species such as predator trapping, and also dune, coastal estuary and coastal wetland restoration and protection is also likely to benefit white-fronted terns.

White-fronted terns courting
White-fronted terns courting