Common Tern Sterna hirundo Linnaeus, 1758

Order: Charadriiformes Family: Sternidae Status: Breeding in Madeira

Common Tern Sterna hirundo

Recommended birdwatching tours & sea trips to watch this bird

Bird, dolphin and whale watching trip
Half-day birdwatching

Common Tern Field ID Keys

Shape & Size

A stocky fairly small marine tern with longish bill and neck and short legs. Tail does not go beyond wing tips.

Colour Pattern

The Common Tern has a white body with the upper-parts of wings and abdomen being light grey. The bird has a black cap and orange legs and bill; very often there is a black tip to the bill.

Common Tern Sterna hirundo


Although it is not an exclusively coastal species, on Madeira this bird tends to stay away from human settlements and concentrates on small islets and coastal areas.


This species is broadly distributed around Europe and the world. In Madeira, it is a migratory bird that comes to nest in the summer in small numbers throughout all the islands of the archipelago. The Common Tern usually arrives to Madeira in March and departs by October.

Distinction from similar species

Common Tern may be confused with Roseate Tern thought the latter lacks dusky band under wingtips when in flight or dark shoulders when sitting.

Sterna hirundo Biometrics

Wingspan: 79 - 81 cm (Harrison, 1985)
Total length: 32 - 38 cm (Harrison, 1985)
Weight: 90 - 150 g (Hume, 2002)

Other Bird Facts

Seasonality in Madeira: Between March and October
Breeding: Builds its nests on islets and rocky cliffs between May and June, laying 2 to 4 eggs in each annual brood. The eggs are incubated mainly by the female and hatch in about 20 days.
Diet: Plunge-dive for small fish and aquatic invertebrates and insects


Madeira local status by Correia-Fagundes et al, 2021: Common breeding bird
Madeira local status by Romano et al, 2010: Common breeding bird
Madeira local status by Zino et al, 1995: Very Common breeding bird
Conservation status by the IUCN Red List Categories, 2013: Least Concern ver 3.1

Name of this species in other languages

Madeiran: Garajau comum
Portuguese: Andorinha-do-mar-comum
German: Flußseeschwalbe
Dutch: Visdief
Swedish: Fisktärna
Danish: Fjordterne
Finish: Kalatiira
Norwegian: Makrellterne
Spanish: Charrán común
Galician: Carrán común
French: Sterne pierregarin
Italian: Sterna comune
Polish: Rybitwa rzeczna
Slovak: Rybár riečny
Czech: Rybák obecný
Slovenian: Navadna čigra
Russian: Речная крачка
English synonyms: Sea-swallow

Join Madeira Wildlife Monthly Newsletter. All the updates on your email every month.