River Tern


Sterna aurantia

Common Names:

River tern, the Indian River tern, Common River tern


River Tern

Kingdom :    Animalia
Phylum :   Chordata
Class :   Aves
Order :   Charadriiformes
Family:   Laridae
Genus :   Sterna
Species :    aurantia

Conservation Status:

IUCN :   Near Threatened
CITES :   Not listed
IW(P)A :   Not listed
U.S ESA :   Not listed


The River tern has a wide range across southern Asia. In India, it is found throughout the country, inhabiting rivers and freshwater lakes, occasionally occurring on estuaries.


Distribution of River Tern (Source: http://www.birdlife.org)

Characteristics, Habitat and Behaviour:

The River tern is a slender bird, about the size of a pigeon, with grey upper parts, black cap on the head, yellow beak, long pointed wings, a deeply-forked tail and short, yellow stubby legs. Both the sexes look alike. During the breeding season, February to May, it has a deep glossy black head and nape. The juveniles do not have the black markings but have grey, speckled upper parts. It is a resident breeder in the region, found along most of the inland rivers, and breeds on sandy islands. It spends a great portion of its time fishing. It predominantly feeds on fish, small crustaceans and insects. More likely to be sighted in flight than on the ground, it has a distinctive slightly jerky flight and flies in circling curves when fishing.

Major Threats:

  • The nesting areas are vulnerable to flooding and predation.
  • Excessive human disturbance on sand-beds has also caused a decline in the population.
  • Construction of dams potentially poses threat to the species via changes in the flow regime and flooding of nest-sites.

References :

Gochfeld, M., Burger, J., & de Juana, E. (2015). "Black-bellied Tern (Sterna acuticauda)". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. Retrieved 16 December 2015.