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Fairy Tern Sternula nereis
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
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This species is classified as Vulnerable owing to recent declines over much of its breeding range. Predation by introduced species, disturbance and inappropriate water level management are thought to have contributed most to this decline. However, data is patchy, and a clarification of trends in its strongholds may lead to its status being revised.

Taxonomic source(s)
Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. 2008. Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
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.
Turbott, E. G. 1990. Checklist of the birds of New Zealand. Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Wellington.

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

Sterna nereis (Gould, 1843), Sternula nereis ssp. nereis

25 cm. Very small white and grey tern with black cap. Upperparts pale grey; white forked tail; underparts white; legs orange-yellow; bill yellow-brown; white forehead with black crown, nape and line to eye. Similar species: Very similar to Little Tern S. albifrons except upperwings more uniformly grey and forehead steep. Hints: . Voice: Flight call high pitched 'zwitt'.

Distribution and population
Sterna nereis occurs in Australia (subspecies nereis), New Caledonia (to France) (exsul) and northern New Zealand (davisae). In Australia, subspecies nereis may number less than 5,000 mature individuals at up to 170 sites, with less than 1,600 pairs in Western Australia, a few hundred pairs in each of Tasmania and South Australia and just a few pairs in Victoria (B. Baker in litt. 2007, D. Paton in litt. 2007, A. Burbidge n litt. 2007, D. Saunders in litt. 2007). Though it may be stable in Western Australia, numbers elsewhere in Australia have declined rapidly during the last thirty years. In New Zealand, davisae plummeted to three pairs in 1983 but, due to intensive conservation efforts has increased and in 1998, totalled 25-30 birds and 8-10 pairs over three sites. In 2006 this had increased to 30-40 individuals and 10 pairs (Parrish and Honnor 1997, Taylor 2000, S. Garnett in litt. 2007). By 2011, this had increased again to 40-45 individuals and c10 pairs (P-J. Pridham in litt. 2011). In New Caledonia, exul numbers 100-200 pairs, but was formerly much more abundant (F. Hannecart per. M. Pandolfi in litt. 1999, N. Barre in litt. 2007). One small population in the Southern Lagoon of New Caledonia may be increasing (Baling et al. 2009).

Population justification
In Australia, subspecies nereis may number fewer than 5,000 mature individuals at up to 170 sites, with less than 1,600 pairs in Western Australia, a few hundred pairs in each of Tasmania and South Australia and just a few pairs in Victoria. In New Zealand, davisae numbers 35-40 pairs. In New Caledonia, exul numbers 100-200 pairs. The total population is best placed in the band 2,500-9,999 mature individuals.

Trend justification
Data indicates a decline of 23% due to, perhaps most importantly, disturbance and predation.

It breeds on sheltered mainland coastlines and close islands, usually on sandy beaches above the high tide line but below where vegetation occurs (Higgins and Davies 1996). Breeding occurs at different times at different locations, but generally occurs from mid to late October until February (Higgins and Davies 1996). Adults have been observed to conduct post-fledgling parental care in New Zealand (Preddey 2008). It feeds almost entirely on fish mainly by following shoals of feeding predatory fish, and is rarely found out of sight of land (Higgins and Davies 1996). It lays one or two eggs. The oldest recorded individuals are at least 13 (New Zealand) and 17 years (Australia). Observations over one season on New Caledonia revealed a low rate of nesting success, with only one in five nests producing a fledgling (Baling et al. 2009).

Threats include habitat degradation by encroaching weeds and housing developments, predation by introduced mammals and gulls, extreme weather events (which locally at least can put an entire breeding season at risk) (Parrish and Honnor 1997), and disturbance by humans (particularly tourists in New Caledonia), dogs and vehicles, either causing the direct destruction of eggs or desertion of nests (Higgins and Davies 1996, Parrish and Honnor 1997, F. Hannecart per. M. Pandolfi in litt. 1999). In South Australia inappropriate water level management has lead to a collapse in the numbers of prey fish, and a subsequent decline in colonies (D. Paton in litt. 2007).

Conservation Actions Underway
Many colonies in Australia are regularly monitored, and intensive management has led to an increase in the population on New Zealand. Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitor all breeding colonies annually to assess trends. Control introduced mammals and other nest predators at important breeding sites. Oppose developments which would encroach on breeding colonies. Restrict access to important breeding colonies.

Baling, M.; Jeffries, D.; Barré, N.; Brunton, D. H. 2009. A survey of Fairy Tern (Sterna nereis) breeding colonies in the Southern Lagoon, New Caledonia. Emu 109(1): 57-61.

Higgins, P. J.; Davies, S. J. J. F. 1996. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds vol 3: snipe to pigeons. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Parrish, R.; Honnor, L. 1997. New Zealand Fairy Tern (Tara-iti) Sterna nereis davisae recovery plan 1997-2002. Department of Conservation, Wellington.

Preddey, J. M. 2008. Post-fledging parental care of a juvenile New Zealand Fairy Tern (Sterna nereis davisae). Notornis 55(3): 159-161.

Taylor, G. A. 2000. Action plan for seabird conservation in New Zealand. Department of Conservation, Wellington.

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
Anderson, O., Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Ekstrom, J., Garnett, S., Harding, M., Mahood, S., McClellan, R.

Baker, P., Barré, N., Burbidge, A., Burbidge, A., Christidis, L., Ford, H., Garnett, S., Herman, K., Holmes, D., Lacey, G., Menkhorst, P., Paton, D., Saunders, D.

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

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Sternula nereis. Downloaded from on 25/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 25/10/2016.

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 Vulnerable
Family Laridae (Gulls, Terns, Skimmers)
Species name author (Gould, 1843)
Population size 2500-9999 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 11,700 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species