White-fronted Tern, Sterna striata Click to enlarge image
White-fronted Tern, Sterna striata Image: James Bailey

Fast Facts

  • IUCN Conservation Status
  • Classification
  • Size Range
    35 cm to 43 cm

Striata is from the Modern Latin word striatus for streaked or striped. The scientific name for the White-fronted Tern comes from the barred upperparts of the juveniles' plumage. The White-fronted Tern has grey back and wings with white everywhere else except a black cap.

What do White-fronted Terns look like?


The White-fronted Tern has grey back and wings with white everywhere else except a black cap. When in breeding plumage, the black cap extends from the crown down to a line parallel with the bottom of the eye but not all the way to the top of the beak, and down the back of the neck. In non-breeding plumage, the cap does not extend so far leaving the forehead white. The tail is grey and deeply forked, extending past the wing tips. In non-breeding plumage, the White-fronted Tern's beak is black as are the legs and feet. In breeding plumage, the legs and feet are a deep red or mottled red and black. The juvenile has strong barring on the wings.

Where do White-fronted Terns look live?


The White-fronted Tern occurs in coastal seas and exposed rocky costs. They can be found also in sandy beaches of sheltered coasts such as bays, harbours, estuaries and lagoons (this is less frequent in Australia than New Zealand).


The White-fronted Tern is distributed along the south-east coast of Australia, and in New Zealand. They can occur as far north as Bribie, Moreton and Stradbroke Islands in QLD, and all around the coast to the Coorong and the south coast of Kangaroo Island in SA. In Tasmania they are widespread from the Furneaux Group down the east coast to Boat Harbour and Cockle Creek. The White-fronted Tern is the most widespread tern in New Zealand.

What do White-fronted Terns eat and how do they communicate?

Feeding and diet

White-fronted Terns forage mostly on fish on, or just below, the surface of the water, preferring turbulent water in or just beyond the surf zone, or near rocks and reefs. They dive from 6-10 m above the surface and can submerge to about 50 cm.


White-fronted Terns have several calls, from the short 'krek' noise while in the nesting colony that makes the colony very noisy, to the 'rasping yawn' of the alarm call such as when a predator attacks the colony.

What are White-fronted Terns breeding behaviours?

Breeding Behaviour/s

White-fronted Terns build their nests in colonies that may contain several hundred or thousand breeding pairs, and frequently in association with other species. Colonies can be on islets, reefs, cliffs, sand dunes and beaches or shingle bars. The nest is usually a scrape in the sand or soil, with no nesting material so the one or two eggs are laid directly on the surface. Both sexes incubate and all the sitting birds will face the same direction - into the wind. It is thought that White-fronted Terns mate for several years and possibly even for life.

Breeding Season: October-February.


Most White-fronted Terns breed in New Zealand and then disperse after the breeding season (October to February), with some migrating to Australia for the winter. The movements of the terns that breed in Tasmania are not known.

Economic/social impacts

Nesting colonies of White-fronted Terns can be disturbed by human activity, and even vandals in some cases.