Australian Biological Resources Study

Species Bank Home

Sterna bergii (Family Laridae)

Crested Tern


The Crested Tern ranges throughout the Indian Ocean, Eastern Africa, Madagascar, all of South-east Asia, and throughout the western and central Pacific. It is found all around Australia where it is a breeding resident. (QLD, NSW, VIC, TAS, SA, WA, NT, ISLANDS)


The Crested Tern is a large, handsome, black capped, common tern, that is only slightly smaller than the Caspian Tern, Hydropogne caspa, but larger than a Silver Gull, Larus novaehollandiae. It grows to a length of 400-500 mm. It is graceful in flight. Its wings are long and slender, while its tail is quite forked. The Crested Tern has a grey mantle and upper-surface on the wings, and its common name comes from its black shaggy crest that occurs on its crown and nape. The rest of its plumage is white in colour. It has a distinctive, long, slender, slightly down-curved, lemon-yellow coloured bill. Its legs are black. When it is in its non-breeding plumage, its crown is noticeably streaked with white.

Ecology/Way of Life:

The Crested Tern is by far the most common tern around the Australian mainland, particularly in the southern states. Some individuals are sedentary while others are dispersive. One individual has been recorded as flying 1850 km. They may ascend rivers for some distance.

The Crested Tern is gregarious in all seasons and is often associated with other gulls and terns, on beaches, jetties and sand-spits. It usually flies backwards and forwards over a stretch of coast. It plunges for fish food just under the water surface. A group of Crested Terns soaring and diving into the water may be a sign that a shoal of pilchards is swimming past. Crested Terns never scavenge on land, but do follow fishing boats and readily eat the fish that are thrown overboard.

Crested Terns usually breed when they are two years of age. Adult pairs nest in small dense colonies on islands or on cays. At Solitary Island, NSW, 8000 nesting pairs have been recorded. The female lays one or sometimes two eggs in a sand scrape. In a crowded colony their nests are usually about a metre apart, just beyond pecking distance. Smaller colonies may be predated upon by Silver Gulls, Larus novaehollandiae, which not only kill and eat chicks, but also steel the fish from incoming parent Crested Terns. After the breeding season most birds disperse, but some stay near the colony. Crested Terns have been known to live for 17 years.

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

The Crested Tern is a common and widespread species and is probably under no threat from human activities.

Other Comments:

Other common names are Diver, Greater Crested, Ruppell's Swift, Swift Tern, Torres Strait or Bass Strait Tern.

Further Reading:

Blakers, M., Davies, S. J. J. F., and Reilly, P. N. (1984). The Atlas of Australian Birds. p.209, Melbourne University Press.

Davey, K. (1998) A Photographic Guide to Seashore Life of Australia. p.137, New Holland Press, Sydney.

Morecombe, M. (2000). Field Guide to Australian Birds. p.146-7, Steve Parish Publishing.

Pizzey, G. (1980). A Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. p.148, Collins.

Pringle, J. D. (1987). The Shorebirds of Australia. The National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife. p.607. Angus and Robertson.

Reader's Digest (1977). Complete Book of Australian Birds. p.218, Reader's Digest Services.

Slater, et al. (1986). The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds. Rigby.


Text, map and photograph by Keith Davey.

Sponsorship welcomed:

Please Contact ABRS if you wish to discuss sponsoring this or other pages.


Distribution Map

Attached Images

Return to Species Bank home



   Links to another web site
   Opens a pop-up window