Roseate Tern

Sterna dougallii (Montagu, 1813) RS ROSTE 6140
Family: Charadriiformes > Laridae

With its dark bill, silvery-grey upperparts and rosy-washed breast, the Roseate Tern is one of the UK’s rarest breeding birds.

The Roseate Tern is a very marine bird, spending most of its life at sea. It nests in colonies on low-lying rocky islets. The small British and Irish breeding populations are highly localised, with few pairs found nesting away from a handful of well-known sites.

Roseate Tern is a summer visitor to the UK, arriving in April and departing for West African during September. It is Red-listed in the UK as a Bird of Conservation Concern.

Select a topic for more facts and statistics about the Roseate Tern

  • Breeding
  • Winter


Roseate Tern identification is often difficult. The following article may help when identifying Roseate Tern.


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Roseate Tern, provided by xeno-canto contributors.


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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.



Roseate Tern numbers declined substantially between the 1969–70 Census and Seabird 2000 (1998–2002), from 955 occupied nests to just 56 nests (JNCC 2022). The species is monitored by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel and, as a UK breeding species, it is now almost exclusively restricted as a breeding species to one island site in Northumberland. This site hosted 122 of the 125 breeding pairs recorded in 2019 and the 25 year trend is stable (Eaton et al. 2021).


Roseate Tern is a species of conservation concern owing to historic population declines. At the time of Bird Atlas 2007–11 breeding was concentrated in just three colonies: Coquet Island in northeast England and Rockabill and Lady’s Island Lake in the east of Ireland. More recently, Coquet Island has been devasted by the 2022 outbreak of avian influenza.

Roseate Tern breeding distribution 2008-11
Britain and Ireland Breeding Distribution 2008-2011.
More from the Atlas Mapstore.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2


In Britain, colony loss has been greatest in the Firth of Forth, where there has been competition with Herring Gulls, low productivity, intermittent breeding and emigration to other areas. In Ireland, losses have been greatest at Strangford Lough and along the west coast.


Roseate Terns is a scarce breeding species, present from May onwards; some birds seen on autumn passage into August and September.

Weekly occurence of Roseate Tern from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Roseate Tern ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)


Lifecycle and body size information about Roseate Tern, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.



View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Steàrnag-stiùireach
Welsh: Môr-wennol Wridog
Catalan: xatrac rosat
Czech: rybák rajský
Danish: Rosenterne
Dutch: Dougalls Stern
Estonian: roosatiir
Finnish: ruusutiira
French: Sterne de Dougall
German: Rosenseeschwalbe
Hungarian: rózsás csér
Icelandic: Roðaþerna
Irish: Geabhróg Ríoga
Italian: Sterna di Dougall
Latvian: sartais zirinš
Lithuanian: rožine žuvedra
Norwegian: Rosenterne
Polish: rybitwa rózowa
Portuguese: trinta-réis-róseo / gaivina-rosada
Slovak: rybár štíhlozobý
Slovenian: rožnata cigra
Spanish: Charrán rosado
Swedish: rosentärna


Interpretation and scientific publications about Roseate Tern from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

Recent increases at the main UK breeding site in Northumberland have been driven partly by immigration from Rockabill and Lady 's Island Lake in the Republic of Ireland (Seward et al. 2019 cited in Eaton et al. 2021), but the proportion of breeding birds that came from the Northumberland colony itself has risen from 20% to 60% between 2006 and 2019 (Eaton et al. 2021). However, the UK population remains well below the level in 1969–70. Longer term declines of the species are thought to have been driven mainly by hunting on its wintering grounds (Cabot 1996) although other factors may be responsible for local breeding declines including habitat loss, predation, disturbance and competition for nest sites (Avery et al. 1995, JNCC 2012). Intensive management programmes have been put in place to help protect the species including wardening at breeding sites and provision of nest boxes, and attempts to reduce the pressures affecting the wintering areas (Avery et al. 2010).

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