White ternGygis alba

  • Open Ocean
  • Avifauna
  • Tern


The White tern is a semi pelagic (open ocean) bird that can be seen in tropical areas across the world. The White noddy, Fairy tern or Angel tern are also names that have been associated with the Gygis alba, from the family of Laridae. Its plumage is completely white, while its bill is black, and eyes are also rimmed black.  At close range, White terns have a slightly upturned black bill with a blue base, and cobalt blue legs and feet. These birds can attain a lifespan of sixteen to eighteen years and make a whistled alarm note and various clicks when they are in their nests. Young birds have grey or greyish brown plumage. They possess a dark spot behind the eye and greyish markings on the nape and mantle.

Habitat and ecology

The diet of the Gygis alba consists mainly of fish but does include squid and crustaceans which they hunt by diving. White terns are a semi-pelagic bird. They are solitary or can be found in small groups. Although diurnal, they are most dynamic at dusk and dawn.

Breeding seasons vary according to their location and females lay a single egg. White terns do not build nests but instead they may lay their egg in crevices that are already present in tree barks or scratch one into the bark using a branch. Nesting locations also include coral islands, vegetation, rocky slopes and cliffs.

Conservation and management

The white tern has a relatively widespread presence worldwide and is thus categorised under the ‘Least Concern’ listing of IUCN. They are not known as migratory birds.

Did you know?

White terns are known to be monogamous; the same pairs can be with one another for multiple seasons.

The word alba is Latin for white.