The common tern is a medium-sized tern and the one you are most likely to see away from known breeding colonies. Common terns and Arctic terns can be very difficult to tell apart. The common tern is whiter below, has shorter tail streamers and a longer bill which is orangey-red with a black tip. Common terns are silvery-grey above with a large, black cap and short, red legs.
Common terns are noisy in their colonies and, like most terns, will attack intruders threatening their nests. They breed on sandy coasts, in dunes and on islands but also breed inland on gravelly banks of lakes and rivers. They plunge-dive to catch their fish-prey.
- Length: 31-35cm
- Wingspan: 88cm
- Weight: 130g
- Average Lifespan: 12 years
Classified in the UK as an Amber List species under the Birds of Conservation Concern review.
A summer visitor, nesting on gravelly beaches and islands around the coast and inland on gravel pits and reservoirs.
When to see
April – September
The tail streamers of the common tern have earned it the nickname ‘sea swallow’.