Roseate tern (Sterna dougallii)

Species Status: Endangered in Canada
Action Required: Nest protection and colony establishment

This endangered seabird experienced sharp declines during the 1970s. Today, there are fewer than 250 adults in Canada.

The roseate tern is a graceful creature whose white, forked tail looks like long streamers when in flight. During courtship rituals, the males fly circles high in the air, often carrying a fish. During the breeding season, their belly turns pink, earning them their name. Roseate terns feed on small saltwater fish, plunging in the water close to shore to catch their prey. Estimating their lifespan can be difficult, but the oldest known banded roseate tern was 25 years old.

Roseate terns live almost exclusively on small coastal islands. They nest together in colonies, using their large numbers to ward off would-be predators. These birds breed at sites covered with beach grass and other vegetation and usually hide their nests under dense grasses, boards or other washed-up debris. They will also nest in artificial shelters, including boxes and half-buried tires.

Most roseate terns in Canada are found on a few islands off the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, although small numbers also breed on islands in Quebec and New Brunswick. In the winter, these birds migrate to South America. In 2007, it was estimated that 100 pairs were nesting at seven colonies in Canada.

Major threats to roseate terns in Canada include predators like red foxes, American minks, herring gulls and great black-backed gulls, which prey on eggs, chicks and adults. Because gulls form larger populations, they often displace roseate tern colonies, forcing the terns to find other homes. However, finding new nesting sites can be difficult due to erosion caused by storms and increased development of coastal areas.

Recommended Recovery Actions

The federal Recovery Strategy for roseate tern calls for a number of conservation measures, including managing predators, enhancing nesting habitat and establishing additional predator-free colonies.

What we are doing

The roseate tern is on Wildlife Preservation Canada’s priority list for potential future action. Find out how we are currently saving other Canadian birds, and how you can make a difference.