email a friend
printable version
Saunders's Tern Sternula saundersi
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information

This species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size may be moderately small to large, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

Taxonomic note
Sternula saundersi (del Hoyo and Collar 2014) was previously placed in the genus Sterna.

Sterna saundersi Hume, 1877

Distribution and population
This poorly known species breeds along the coasts of the Red Sea south to Socotra (Yemen) and Somalia, and around the Persian Gulf off Saudi Arabia, Iran and Oman, to north-west India, Sri Lanka, Adu Atoll (Maldives), and possibly the Amirantes and Seychelles (del Hoyo et al. 1996). North-east African birds move south as far as Tanzania in winter, and birds around the Red Sea also move south within the breeding range. Birds in south-east Somalia, Sudan and Socotra are resident. Other populations appear to migrate eastwards to the west coast of India, Sri Lanka, Laccadives (to India) and Maldives, Seychelles and Malaysia (Snow and Perrins 1998). The location of its breeding colonies is mostly unknown, but in Iran, c.150 pairs nested in the 1970s in seven colonies, a small population was known to breed in Bahrain which appeared to decrease substantially from 1969-1971 to 1981, and 29+ pairs bred in 1983 on the Farasan Archipelago in Saudi Arabia (Gallagher et al. 1984).

Trend justification
Although Wetlands International consider the population to be increasing, the population is suspected to be in decline owing to disturbance and predation at breeding sites (del Hoyo et al. 1996).

Behaviour The movements of this species are not well known although many individuals winter outside of their breeding range (del Hoyo et al. 1996). The species breeds in solitary pairs or small loose colonies of 5-30 pairs (Gallagher et al. 1984, del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998). It inhabits shallow tropical and subtropical inshore waters, estuaries, tidal lagoons and harbours often feeding up to 15 km offshore and nesting up to 2 km inland (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998). Diet consists of small fish, crustaceans, molluscs and insects (del Hoyo et al. 1996). The nest is a hollow (e.g. an animal footprint) in bare sand, shingle or dried mud just above the high tide line on beaches, on mudflats or up to 2 km inland (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998). It shows a preference for nesting on small mounds of wind-blown sand surrounding plants or other objects, and in breeding colonies neighbouring nests are usually placed between 20 and 100 m apart (del Hoyo et al. 1996).

The species is threatened by the development and industrial reclamation of coastal breeding habitats and is highly vulnerable to human disturbance (including birdwatchers) at coastal and inland nesting sites (del Hoyo et al. 1996).

del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Delany, S.; Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Gallagher, M. D.; Scott, D. A.; Ormond, R. F. G.; Connor, R. J.; Jennings, M. C. 1984. The distribution and conservation of seabirds breeding on the coasts and islands of Iran and Arabia. In: Croxall, J.P.; Evans, P.G.H.; Schreiber, R.W. (ed.), Status and conservation of the world's seabirds, pp. 421-456. International Council for Bird Preservation, Cambridge, U.K.

Snow, D. W.; Perrins, C. M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic vol. 1: Non-Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Harding, M., Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Malpas, L.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Sternula saundersi. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Least Concern
Family Laridae (Gulls, Terns, Skimmers)
Species name author Hume, 1877
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 236,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- Projected distributions under climate change