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Brown Noddy Anous stolidus stolidus

Brown Noddy

At a glance

Pantropical distribution.

Largest of the noddy terns

Second most common seabird in the West Indies, but region’s population in decline

Nest location, nest construction, and on-set of nesting season varies from site to site

Better information on number of breeding colonies and number nesting pairs needed



There are only three species of all black terns in our region. The Black Tern is smaller than the two Atlantic species of noddy terns, and they have white underwings. Non-breeding Black Terns are not entirely black. Of the two noddy terns the Brown Noddy is larger (16-18 inches; 40-45 cm, total length) than the Black Noddy (14-15 inches; 35-39 cm total length). Both noddy terns have white caps. As it's name implies this species is brownish and less dark. It also has a larger broader bill. That said, these terns would be very difficult to identify in flight at sea or when both species are not available for direct comparison.


Can live up to 25 years, first breeds at 3-7 years of age. Sexes alike in appearance but males larger than females, no seasonal variation in plumage. Dull brown with conspicuous white cap. Primaries and tail darker than rest of body giving birds in flight a two toned appearance. Black Noddy dorsal color basically uniform.


Like adult but head and forehead all dark, whitish tips to secondaries and secondary wing coverts. Immature looks like adult but does not have well defined cap.

Alternative names

French: Noddi niais

Spanish: Charran bobo, Charran pardelo, Cevera.


Noddies are primitive terns, perhaps more closely related to gulls than they are to other terns. Worldwide four species of noddies; only two the Brown and Black occur in the Atlantic and West Indies region. The Brown Noddy is the most abundant and wide ranging of the four species. Four recognized subspecies, A. s. stolidus is the only one occurring in the Atlantic. This race is small, paler and has a whiter forehead than the other subspecies.  

Likely locations

Near nesting islands, does not venture far from land when nesting but will feed offshore. Displaced after hurricanes into waters off southeastern United States.


This is a common tropical pelagic tern occurring in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Ocean; it is the second most abundant tropical seabird in the Atlantic. Except following hurricanes and other major storms, the Brown Noddy is seldom encountered away from tropical and sub-tropical seas.

Breeds throughout the Caribbean Basin, lower Gulf of Mexico and Bahamas. Absent from Bermuda. Move south of nesting colonies in winter. Same subspecies also nests in equatorial and tropical south Atlantic (Ascension Island, St. Helena, Tristan de Cunha and Gough Island).
Brown Noddies in the West Indies


At sea

Tropical seas. Flies above and swims on surface. Roost on water, rocks. pilings and flotsam. Feeds over coastal and offshore waters but not as pelagic as Sooty Terns. Feeds by dipping or surface seizing. Often in mixed species flocks over feeding schools of predatory fishes. Feeds primarily on Spanish  sardines and small larval fishes, including anchovies. Also know to eat squid. Prey items range from 30-100 mm in total length.

At the nest

Egg laying dates variable from colony to colony and can shift over time. Nest construction also variable from simple scrape to loose twig nest in vegetation. Often nest on cliffs. Single large white egg with sparse brown blotches and specks. Incubation 33-36 days. Fledge in 43-49 days, with parents continuing to feed young for at least the next hundred days.

Current Population 

Country Breeding Sites Low Estimate High Estimate
Bahamas 52 4930 5731
Turks and Caicos 12 26930 26940
Cuba 13 155 209
Jamaica 9 5503 5542
Haiti 1 5 10
Dominican Republic 5 2 40
Puerto Rico 12 972 1110
US Virgin Islands 19 503 1140
Anguilla 5 917 955
St. Martin 1 105 130
St. Maarten 2 15 15
St. Bartholomew 2 99 130
Saba 2 30 60
St. Christopher and Nevis 1 6 10
Antigua and Barbuda 4 141 155
Guadeloupe 12 667 747
Dominica 3 1002 1020
Martinique 7 142 216
St. Lucia 5 38 68
St. Vincent and the Grenadines 2 1 10
Grenada 5 5 50
Trinidad and Tobago 5 210 985
Venezuela 5 384 1342
Aruba 1 164 164
Colombia 2 100 1000
Total 187 43026 47779

Estimates from other sources for the Atlantic

Florida (Dry Tortugas): 2,000 pairs (Clapp and Buckley 1984)

Bahamas: 600-800 (Chardine et al. 2000), ~5000 (wicbirds.net) or 50,000-60,000 pairs (Sprunt 1984)

West Indies: 11,400-17,200 pairs (Chardine, et al. 2000) or 43,000-48,000 pairs (wicbirds.net)

Islands off Central America: ~1,000 (not well surveyed; Van Halewyn and Norton 1984)

Islands of northern South American coast: 7,000-9,000 pairs (Van Halewyn and Norton 1984)

Total for Western North Atlantic: 20,000-89,000 pairs depending on the Bahamas numbers

Kushlan, et al. (2002) estimate the total population in the Americas as 286,000-298,000 adults (143,000-149,000 pairs). This discrepancy is only in part explained by additional pairs nesting off the tropical Pacific coast of Mexico and Central America.

Conservation Status

Because of its abundance in the western north Atlantic and other oceans this tern is not a species of conservation concern. At Dry Tortugas, Florida, species is listed as one of special conservation concern by the state of Florida. Extirpated from several cays in Jamaica as a result of egging and overall West Indian population is in decline. This decline is a result of continuous loss of habitat and predation.

Conservation Needs

A reassessment of the region’s current population size is needed as many sites have not been visited in decades. An accurate census of Bahaman populations is particularly needed. These noddies nest on numerous small cays and rocks and the aggregate population is likely to be many times larger than what is currently reported. Many of these sites have difficult access and surveys will probably need to be done from boats.

In the West Indies adults have high survival rates (90% in studies populations). On a global basis the species is well studied but only two populations in the West Indies region have been investigated (Dry Tortugas and Culebra). Because of the variation in the nesting biology between different sites it would be beneficial to learn more about other colonies, particularly some of the small isolated ones.

Only four sites support 1,000 pairs or more and while two are protected, the others deserve protection priority. Rats can quickly destroy the nesting productivity of specific populations and monitoring for the presence of Rattus should become routine protocol for researchers visiting nesting colonies of noddies and other seabirds.  Rhesus monkeys introduced to Desecheo Island (Puerto Rico) eliminated all species of nesting seabirds from that island.

Nesting sites need protection from egging and unintentional disturbance from recreational boaters, and their dogs. Issuing licenses and quotas for Sooty and Brown Noddy Tern eggs in Jamaica proved to be unenforceable. We are aware of one nesting colony in the Bahamas where Australian pines have taken over half of the island and the nesting noddies are now restricted to the half with natural vegetation. These trees should be removed from all islands and cays that have nesting seabird colonies.


Selected References:

Clapp, R. B. and P. A. Buckley. 1984. Status and conservation of seabirds in the southeastern United States. Pages 135-155 in J. P. Croxall, P. G. Evans and R. W. Schreiber (eds). Status and Conservation of the World's Seabirds. ICBP Tech. Publ., No. 2. 778 p.

Chardine, J. W. and R. D. Morris. 1996. Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus). In The Birds of North America, No. 220 (A. Pool and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C.

Chardine, J. W., R. Morris, and R. L. Norton. 2000. Status and conservation needs of brown noddies and black noddies in the West Indies. Pages 118-125 in E. A. Schreiber and D. S. Lee (eds.) Status and Conservation of West Indian Seabirds. Society of Caribbean Ornithology, Special Publication Number 1. 225 pp.

Kushlan, J. A., et al. 2002. Waterbird Conservation for the Americas: the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan, Version 1. Waterbird Conservation for the Americas, Washington, DC, USA., 78 pp.

Sprunt, A., IV. 1984. The status and conservation of seabirds of the Bahama Islands. Pages 157-168 in J. P. Coxall, P. G. Evans and R. W. Schreiber (eds). Status and Conservation of the World's Seabirds. ICBP Tech. Publ., No. 2. 778 p.

Van Halewyn, R. and R. Norton. 1984.The status and conservation of seabirds in the Caribbean. Pages 169-222 in J. P. Coxall, P. G. Evans and R. W. Schreiber (eds). Status and Conservation of the World's Seabirds. ICBP Tech. Publ., No. 2. 778 p.

West Indian Breeding Seabird Atlas by Will Mackin and David Lee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on work at www.wicbirds.net. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.wicbirds.net.

Suggested Citation: Lee, D. S., W. A. Mackin. 2009. Brown Noddy. West Indian Breeding Seabird Atlas <http://www.wicbirds.net/brno.html>. Last Updated: _____. Date accessed: ______.

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April 15, 2010
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