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Sooty Tern - BirdForum Opus

Photo by stevebb
South Atlantic, June 2016
Onychoprion fuscatus

Sterna fuscata


36–45 cm (14¼-17¾ in)

  • Dark grey upperparts
  • White underparts
  • Long, forked tail
  • Long wings
  • Black legs and bill

Juveniles have scaly grey plumage

Similar Species

Photo © by Ken Doy
Lord Howe Island, Australia, February 2019

Bridled Tern differs in having upper back contrastingly paler than rear head. Notice that Sooty Tern becomes more Bridled Tern-like in winter.


Tropical (and sometimes subtropical) oceans all around the globe.


Sooty Tern, Bridled Tern, Grey-backed Tern and Aleutian Tern are each others closest relatives; all four were previously included in the genus Sterna.


Photo by The Bosun
Michaelmas Cay, Great Barrier Reef, Cairns, Queensland, Australia, June 2012

Eight subspecies are recognized[1]:

  • O. f. fuscatus:
  • O. f. nubilosus:
  • Southern Red Sea and Indian Ocean to Ryukyu Island and Philippines
  • O. f. infuscatus:
  • O. f. serratus:
  • O. f. kermadeci:
  • Kermadec Islands
  • O. f. oahuensis:
  • Bonin Islands to Hawaii and South Pacific islands
  • O. f. crissalis:
  • O. f. luctuosus:
  • Juan Fernández Islands (off Chile)


Open sea, but they breed in colonies on rocky or coral islands. They are rarely seen on land, apart from when breeding.



The nest is a ground scrape or hole. The clutch consists of 1-3 eggs.


It feeds by picking fish from the sea surface. Their diet consists mainly of fish, squid and crustaceans, with insects and offal taken on occasion.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive (retrieved August 2017)

Recommended Citation

External Links