Sooty Tern

The Sooty Tern (Sterna fuscata) is a seabird of the tern family Sternidae. It can be found in tropical oceans and it breeds on islands throughout the equatorial zone. This bird is migratory, wintering more widely through the tropical oceans. It prefers more marine habitats compared to most terns. This species is an extremely rare vagrant to Western Europe, although a bird was present at Cemlyn Bay, Wales for 11 days in July 2005.

Sooty Terns are social and breed in colonies on rocky or coral islands. Nest are built in a ground scrape or hole where the female lays one to three eggs. It feeds by picking fish from the surface in marine environments, often in large flocks, and rarely comes to land except to breed, and can stay “aloft” (either soaring or floating on the water) for between 3 to 10 years.

This is a large tern, similar to the Sandwich Tern in size at 33-36 cm in length and with an 82-94 cm wingspan. The wings and deeply forked tail are long, and it has dark grey upperparts and white underparts. It has black legs and bill. Juvenile Sooty Terns are scaly grey above and below. The call is a loud piercing ker-wack-a-wack or kvaark.

There are two similar races: S.f. fuscata of the Caribbean, Atlantic and West Africa has white underparts, whereas S. f. nubilosa, which breeds from the Red Sea to southeast Asia has a greyish tinge to the belly and underwing coverts in fresh plumage.

Sooty Tern is unlikely to be confused with any tern apart from the similarly dark-backed but smaller Bridled Tern. It is darker-backed than that species, and has a broader white forehead and no pale neck collar.