White-winged Black Tern, Chlidonias leucopterus Click to enlarge image
White-winged Black Tern, Chlidonias leucopterus Image: Ray Turnbull

Fast Facts

  • IUCN Conservation Status
  • Classification
  • Size Range
    20 cm to 23 cm

White-winged Black Terns, along with Black Terns and Whiskered Terns C. hybrida, form a group of smallish terns called marsh terns - they all use vegetated wetlands as habitat.

What do White-winged Black Terns look like?


The White-winged Black Tern is one of the smaller terns, and the smallest of the three marsh terns. It is most often seen in its non-breeding plumage of grey back and tail, whitish underwings and underparts. The bill is black, and the head has a variable black horseshoe over the top of the crown and behind the eye. The legs are pinkish black. Many birds acquire their breeding plumage before departing for Eurasia in autumn. In breeding plumage the bill and legs are red, the head and body black, and the wings are grey with a white shoulder and black wing-linings.

The White-winged Black Tern is also known as the White-winged Tern.

Where do White-winged Black Terns live?


White-winged Black Terns are found in small to large flocks on mostly coastal or sub-coastal wetlands including tidal estuaries, lagoons, grassy swamps, and sewage ponds.


The White-winged Black Tern is found in the coastal and sub-coastal north, east, and south-east of the Australian mainland, and the north and east of Tasmania.

What do White-winged Black Terns eat and how do they communicate?

Feeding and diet

White-winged Black Terns feed on insects, spiders and fish. They forage by hawking (i.e. feeding on the wing), dipping (flying 2-4 m above the water then dipping down to take items on or just below the surface of the water), and plunging (shallow dives from 2-4 m).


Buzzing and rapid short cries ('kik-kik-kik').

What are White-winged Black Terns breeding behaviours?

Breeding Behaviour/s

White-winged Black Terns do not breed in Australia.

Breeding Season: Do not breed in Australia.


White-winged Black Terns breed in northern Eurasia, and are non-breeding summer migrants to Australia as well as to Indonesia, New Guinea, New Zealand, and Africa. Some birds overwinter in Australia in their breeding plumage.

Economic/social impacts

White-winged Black Terns live on sewage ponds.