Sterna vittata (Antarctic tern) 

Grysborssterretjie [Afrikaans]; Antarctische stern, zuidpoolstern [Dutch]; Sterne couronnée [French]; Gabelschwanz-Seeschwalbe [German]; Gaivina-antárctica [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 vittata (Antarctic tern)  Sterna vittata (Antarctic tern) 

Antarctic tern in non-breeding plumage, Jacobsbaai, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Antarctic tern in breeding plumage, Cape Recife, South Africa. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]

Distribution and habitat

Breeds on the Subantarctic Islands and Antarctic Peninsula, mainly staying in the southern Ocean in the non-breeding season, although some birds head north to southern Africa. Here it is locally fairly common along the coast of the Western Cape, while more scarce in the Eastern Cape, spending most of its time at sea before returning to rocky offshore islands to roost.

Distribution of Antarctic 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

It is thought that the populations breeding in the South Atlantic Ocean spend the non-breeding season in South Africa, arriving in May and leaving in October.


Mainly eats shoaling fish, such as Anchovies (Engraulis encrasicolus), as well as krill (Euphausia), doing most of its foraging by grabbing prey from the water surface or plunge-diving into calm water.


Not threatened, although visitor numbers to the Western Cape have considerably decreased since the 1980s while numbers in the Eastern Cape are increasing, the cause of which is unknown.


  • 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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