Sterna bengalensis (Lesser crested tern) 

Kuifkopsterretjie [Afrikaans]; Bengaalse stern [Dutch]; Sterne voyageuse [French]; Rüppell-seeschwalbe [German]; Gaivina-de-bico-laranja [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: Sterna
Sterna bengalensis (Lesser crested tern)   

Lesser-crested tern, India. [photo Mohanram Kemparaju ©]


Distribution and habitat

Breeds in tropical and sub-tropical areas, especially Australasia and in the southern Mediterranean; in the non-breeding season it mainly stays within these areas, although some head south to the eastern coast of Africa. In southern Africa it is uncommon to locally common along the coast of Mozambique, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, generally preferring sandy coasts with coral, estuaries and coastal lagoons.

Distribution of Lesser crested 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

Non-breeding summer visitor to southern Africa, probably originating from the Red Sea, arriving in southern Africa in the period from October-December. It leaves between January and June, although individuals occasionally stay over winter.


Almost exclusively eats fish, supplemented with cephalopods and crustaceans, doing most of its foraging less than 6 km from the shore, mainly on incoming and high tides at mid-morning or late afternoon.


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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