number of species of intermediate sized, black crowned, all white terns
and they will prove difficult to identify to the inexperienced. Roseate
terns are named for the pinkish cast to their breast, and this can be
seen at close range on adult breeding season birds in flight. All black
bill is shared with several other species of white terns. The Caribbean
population have reddish orange bills with only the tips being black.
When at rest the tails of breeding plumaged adults project past the
wing tip. Tails of adults streamered. Juvenile and winter plumaged
adults would be more difficult to identify. Most likely to be confused
with Common and Arctic terns. Roseate Tern length 14 to 17 inches,
35-43 cm, Common Tern 12.25 to 15 inches. Arctic Tern 13-15
these three Roseate Tens have much paler plumage and heaver and darker
alike but with seasonal variation in bill color. Feet and legs bright orange.
During the breeding season the Caribbean population exhibits a reddish
orange bill, and
only the tip is black. In other populations except for the base the
entire bill is black.
and subsequent year birds distinguishable from adults. Backs grey with buffy
cast and looked scaled. Bill and legs black.
other medium sized similar appearing terns in downy chick
characteristics and adult behavioral traits. Hybridizes with Common
Tern and Arctic Terns, including F1 crosses and back-crosses. Five
named subspecies but the nominate is the only one occurring in the
distribution comes to land only to breed and roost at night. Seldom
encountered except at and near breeding sites and at roosting areas on
tropical wintering grounds.
pelagic in migration. Occurs from northern South America and Gulf of
Mexico to Canada. May be in mixed flocks with other terns during
migration. Nesting disjunct, in western North Atlantic breeds in New
England and southern Canada and another population occurs in Florida,
the Bahamas Antilles and along northern South American coast and
adjacent islands (Netherlands Antilles). Small numbers nest in Eastern
North Atlantic, widespread in Old World tropics with additional
subspecies occuring in South Africa, the Indian Ocean and the western
Turks and Caicos
US Virgin Islands
British Virgin Islands
St. Vincent & Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago
flocks, probably with Common Terns. In West Indies region typically
forages in small mixed species flocks with Sandwich Terns and Brown
Noddies over shallow lagoons or just off shore, mainly within 2 km of
colony. Often feeds over schools of predatory fish. Adapted for fast
flight and relatively deep diving. Cannot hover as well as most terns.
Fish specialist, in Puerto Rico main prey is small silversides and
dwarf herring. Also feed on anchovies, sardines, and reef silversides.
live for at least 26 years (probably longer
as early banding studies had high loss of aluminum bands). Most
individuals do not breed until they are 3-4 years old. Some West Indian
colonies shift colonies annually, but retain strong site fidelity to
specific groups of cays. Shifts or abandonment result from human
disturbance, heavy predation, and reproductive failure due to patchy
prey base. Adults return to colonies in late April and early May about
three weeks prior to egg laying. Colonies mostly offshore on small
rocky cays. Sites often barren or sparsely vegetated, ledges, slopes
and cliffs, but also nest in vegetative cover of up to 90%. Nest simple
shallow scrape, some nest material may be added later, but nest
material less pronounced than Common Tern. Only one brood per season.
Eggs brown with darker specks and streaks. Typical clutch size is 2,
incubation period 23 days, fledging period 22-30 days.
population 2,500 and 3,300 pairs; Caribbean population 4,000-6000
pairs; North Carolina 1-2 sporadic breeding attempts; British Isles (ca
800) pairs, and France (ca 120 pairs). Formerly nested in Bermuda but
the nesting colony there has been abandoned for decades. Within the
historical period as many as 10,000 pairs may have nested in just the
West Indies. The total current Atlantic population is probably less
than 8,000 pairs.
The US Fish
Wildlife Service recognizes the population of this tern in northeast
North America as Endangered and the disjunct Florida and Caribbean
stock as Threatened (Federal Register: 42064). The nominate subspecies,
endemic to the North Atlantic, is in sharp decline. The historical
distribution and reliable population estimates within the West Indies
region remain unavailable as early ornithologists often confused this
species with Common Terns.
been eliminated at many sites it is still practiced to some extent in
the West Indies. A major issue is the capture of some adult and large
numbers of sub-adult birds on shore and at sea when these terns are on
their wintering grounds (Guyana and w. Africa). Birds are netted at
night with the use of jack-lighting, caught by hand when they land on
fishing boats and also captured with baited lines. These may be the
most important sources of mortality.
and heavy metals are an issue. Puerto Rican birds had high
concentrations of mercury, lead and cadmium in breast feathers. There
is no indication that this is a by-catch species in pelagic fisheries
but their diving behavior would appear to make them good candidates for
of nesting habitat from development or other land use is an issue,
and the species is sensitive to any disturbance early in the breeding
cycle. More likely to desert nest after disturbance than other terns.
Temporary dissertation leaved eggs and chicks vulnerable to predation.
Posting colonies during nesting season and public education needed.
Visits to cays with Roseate Tern colonies by tourist industry need to
be regulated and tour leaders need to be educated as to the sensitive
nature of the colonies.
Laughing Gull population, probably as a result of food
supplementation from garbage and local fishing activities, detrimental
to colonies as these gulls prey on unguarded chicks. Gull control in
areas around nesting colonies should be considered.
of this tern’s movement between nesting sites it is difficult
to obtain an accurate population assessment of the West Indian stock.
Figures represent totals obtained from high counts at colonies over a
many year period and are thus probably much higher than the total
population. Within regions surveys need to be made of all known nesting
sites within the same breeding season. Also individuals of the Northern
Atlantic population are known to occur in breeding colonies. Because of
these factors the assessment of the aggregate size of the West Indian
population is most likely at the lower end of the range provided here.
plans have been formulated for the Caribbean population by US
Fish and Wildlife Service as of 1993, but most nesting colonies and
roosting site issues are outside the jurisdiction of the US government.
Management suggestions consist of fencing of colonies, control of
vegetation and predators (gulls and introduced mammals), providing
shelters and other cover for chicks (nest boxes, tires, etc), sign
posting, wardening, and enforcement.
and M. Gochfeld. 1988. Nest-site selection by roseate terns
in two tropical colonies on Culebra, Puerto Rico. Condor 90:843-851.
M., J. Burger, and I. C. T. Nisbet. 1998. Roseate Tern (Sterna
in The Birds of North America, No. 370 (A. Poole and F.
Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
D. S. and J. F. Parnell. 1990. Endangered, threatened and rare fauna of
North Carolina. Part III A Re-evaluation of the Birds. Occasional.
Papers N.C. Biological Survey. 52 p. . Saliva,
J. E. 2000.
Conservation Priorities for Roseate Terns in the West Indies. Pages 87-95 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.
D. A. 1995. Comparative feeding
ecology of Roseate and Sandwich Terns in Puerto Rico and its relation
to breeding performance. Ph. D. dissertation, Rutgers University, New
Brunswick, New Jersey. 228 pp.
D. A. and J. Burger.
1992. Differential response of tropical roseate terns to aerial
intruders throughout the nesting cycle. Condor 94: 712-719.
D. A. and J. E. Saliva. 1992. Northeastern Roseate Terns seen at Puerto
Rican colony during breeding season. Colonial Waterbirds 15: 152-154.
J. C. T. 1980. Status and trends of the Roseate Tern, Sterna dougallii
in North America and the Caribbean. Unpublished Rep. U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service Office of Endangered Species.
and R. Norton. 1984.The status and conservation of seabirds in the
169-222 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.
by: Dave Lee and Will Mackin
Indian Breeding Seabird Atlas by Will
Mackin and David Lee is licensed
under a Creative
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Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.wicbirds.net.
Citation: Lee, D. S., W. A. Mackin. 2009. Roseate Tern. West Indian
Breeding Seabird Atlas
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