Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii Montagu, 1813

Order: Charadriiformes Family: Sternidae Status: Breeding in Madeira

Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii

Roseate Tern Field ID Keys

Shape & Size

An elegant tern with short wings, longish bill and legs and long tail streamers.

Colour Pattern

Uniformly very pale grey on the upper-parts and white underparts often with very light pink wash. Its underwings are white with no dark trailing edge. It has red legs, a black cap and the bill is black with a red base which is more extensive in summer.

Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii


Its flight is quite quicker with shallower wingbeats than Common Tern and little hovering. When plunge-diving is not so vertically aggressive as Common Tern.


This is a rare species that can be found in Madeira and Azores archipelagos and very locally through Northwest Europe (mainly UK, North of France and Spain). A few pairs breed in Madeira island, sometimes in Common Tern colonies. These are coastal birds that are usually seen close to harbours, rocky beaches or islets. Since 2021 we noticed a decline in Roseate Terns and in 2023 very little numbers were reported and most of these were watched on the north coast of Madeira.

Distinction from similar species

Roseate Tern is similar to Common Tern though a good observation will highlight the Roseate’s very pale upper-parts and underwings, longer tail streamers and black bill.

Sterna dougallii Biometrics

Wingspan: 76 - 79 cm (Harrison, 1985)
Total length: 35 - 43 cm (Harrison, 1985)
Weight: 95 - 130 g (Hume, 2002)

Other Bird Facts

Seasonality in Madeira: mid April to September
Breeding: Its nests are usually in rocky islets or on quiet coastal cliffs. It lays 1 or 2 eggs in a single brood between May and June.
Diet: Plunge-dive for small fish


Madeira local status by Correia-Fagundes et al, 2021: Rare breeding bird
Madeira local status by Romano et al, 2010: Rare breeding bird
Madeira local status by Zino et al, 1995: Rare breeding bird
Conservation status by the IUCN Red List Categories, 2017: Least Concern ver 3.1

Wind Birds has taken photos of an adult feeding a juvenile in February 2007 that can be an evidence of a winter brood or a pair that is breeding in the winter...

Name of this species in other languages

Madeiran: Garajau rosado
Portuguese: Andorinha-do-mar-rósea, Gaivina rosada, Trinta-réis-róseo
German: Rosenseeschwalbe
Dutch: Dougalls Stern
Swedish: Rosentärna
Danish: Rosenterne
Finish: Ruusutiira
Norwegian: Rosenterne
Spanish: Charrán Rosado
French: Sterne de Dougall
Italian: Sterna di Dougall
Polish: Rybitwa różowa
Slovak: Rybár štíhlozobý
Czech: Rybák rajský
English synonyms: Rosy Tern

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