Chlidonias niger (Black tern) 

Swartmeerswael [Afrikaans]; Swartsterretjie [Afrikaans]; Zwarte Stern [Dutch]; Guifette noire [French]; Trauerseeschwalbe [German]; Gaivina-preta [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Charadriiformes > Family: Laridae  > Genus: Chlidonias

Chlidonias niger (Black tern)   

Black tern in non-breeding plumage, New Jersey, USA. [photo Dana Beaton ]


Distribution and habitat

It has two separate populations, with one breeding in North America before travelling to South America, while the other breeds from western Europe to Asia, heading south in the non-breeding season to the coast and adjacent ocean of western Africa, from Mauritania through Liberia to Cameroon, south to southern Africa. Here it is locally common along and off the coast of Namibia, especially near Luderitz, although it also a rare but regular visitor to the coast of the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Distribution of Black tern in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project ( Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

Palearctic breeding migrant, mainly arriving in southern Africa in the period from November-December, with numbers peaking from January-February before its departure from February-April.


It mainly eats small fish, supplemented with crustaceans, doing most of its foraging grabbing prey from the water surface. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Fish
  • Crustaceans
    • krill
    • Macropetasma africana (Namibia surf shrimp)
    • Palaemon elegans (Glass prawn)


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 



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