Thai National Parks

Birds of Thailand

Species of Thailand

Little tern

Thai: นกนางนวลแกลบเล็ก, nok naang nuan klaep lek

Binomial name: Sternula albifrons, Peter Simon Pallas, 1764

The little tern (Sternula albifrons or Sterna albifrons) is a seabird of the tern family Sternidae. It was formerly placed into the genus Sterna, which now is restricted to the large white terns. The former North American (S. a. antillarum) and Red Sea S. a. saundersi subspecies are now considered to be separate species, the least tern (Sternula antillarum) and Saunders's tern (Sternula saundersi).

This bird breeds on the coasts and inland waterways of temperate and tropical Europe and Asia. It is strongly migratory, wintering in the subtropical and tropical oceans as far south as South Africa and Australia.

There are three subspecies, the nominate albifrons occurring in Europe to North Africa and western Asia; guineae of western and central Africa; and sinensis of East Asia and the north and east coasts of Australia.

The little tern breeds in colonies on gravel or shingle coasts and islands. It lays two to four eggs on the ground. Like all white terns, it is defensive of its nest and young and will attack intruders.

Like most other white terns, the little tern feeds by plunge-diving for fish, usually from saline environments. The offering of fish by the male to the female is part of the courtship display.

This is a small tern, 21–25 cm long with a 41–47 cm wingspan. It is not likely to be confused with other species, apart from fairy tern and Saunders's tern, because of its size and white forehead in breeding plumage. Its thin sharp bill is yellow with a black tip and its legs are also yellow. In winter, the forehead is more extensively white, the bill is black and the legs duller. The call is a loud and distinctive creaking noise.

Populations on European rivers

At the beginning of the 19th century the little tern was a common bird of European shores, rivers and wetlands, but in the 20th century populations of coastal areas decreased because of habitat loss, pollution and human disturbance.

The loss of inland populations has been even more severe, since due to dams, river regulation and sediment extraction it has lost most of its former habitats. The Little Tern population has declined or become extinct in many European countries, and former breeding places on large rivers like the Danube, Elbe and Rhine ceased. Nowadays, only few river systems in Europe possess suitable habitats; the Loire/Allier in France, the Vistula/Odra in Poland, the Po/Ticino in Italy, the Daugava in Latvia, the Nemunas in Lithuania, the Sava in Croatia and the Drava in Hungary and Croatia. The status of the little tern on the rivers Tagus and lower Danube is uncertain.

The Drava population is one of the most threatened. Old fashioned water management practices, including river regulation and sediment extraction, endanger the remaining pairs. Only 15 pairs still breed on extensive sand or gravel banks along the border between Hungary and Croatia. The WWF and its partners are involved in working for the protection of this bird and this unique European river ecosystem. The little tern is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.

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Scientific classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Charadriiformes
Family
Sternidae
Genus
Sternula
Species
Sternula albifrons

Common names

  • English: Little tern
  • French: Sterne naine
  • Thai: นกนางนวลแกลบเล็ก, nok naang nuan klaep lek

Synonyms

  • Sternula albifrons, Les Christidis & Walter E. Boles (2008)
  • Sternula albifrons, AOU Checklist (1998)
  • Sterna albifrons, Peter Simon Pallas (1764)
  • Sterna albifrons

Conservation status

Least Concern (IUCN3.1)

Least Concern (IUCN3.1)

Distribution map of Little tern, Sternula albifrons in Thailand
  • Amphawa District, Samut Songkhram
  • Ban Laem District, Phetchaburi
  • Bang Pakong District, Chachoengsao
  • Bang Phra Non-hunting Area
  • Bang Pu Recreation Centre
  • Bangkok Province
  • Bueng Boraped Non-hunting Area
  • Hat Chao Mai National Park
  • Hat Noppharat Thara - Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park
  • Hat Yai District, Songkhla
  • Kaeng Krachan National Park
  • Khao Lak - Lam Ru National Park
  • Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park
  • Khao Yoi District, Phetchaburi
  • Klaeng District, Rayong
  • Ko Libong
  • Ko Samui District, Surat Thani
  • Ko Tao
  • Laem Pak Bia
  • Mu Ko Lanta National Park
  • Mu Ko Phetra National Park
  • Mu Ko Similan National Park
  • Mu Ko Surin National Park
  • Mueang Chonburi District, Chonburi
  • Mueang Krabi District, Krabi
  • Mueang Pattani District, Pattani
  • Mueang Phang Nga District, Phang Nga
  • Mueang Phetchaburi District, Phetchaburi
  • Mueang Phuket District, Phuket
  • Mueang Samut Sakhon District, Samut Sakhon
  • Mueang Samut Songkhram District, Samut Songkhram
  • Nong Ya Plong District, Phetchaburi
  • Pak Thale
  • Phutthamonthon District, Nakhon Pathom
  • Pran Buri Forest Park
  • Samut Prakan Province
  • Sirinat National Park
  • Takua Pa District, Phang Nga
  • Tarutao National Marine Park
  • Thale Noi Non-hunting Area
  • Than Sadet - Koh Pha-Ngan National Park

Range map of Sternula albifrons in Thailand

Important note; our range maps are based on limited data we have collected. The data is not necessarily accurate or complete.

Special thanks to Ton Smits, Parinya Pawangkhanant, Ian Dugdale and many others for their contribution for range data.

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