White-winged Black Tern

Did you know?

White-winged Black terns, along with Black Terns and Whiskered terns C. hybrida, form a group of smallish terns called marsh terns - they all use vegetated wetlands as habitat.

Buzzing and rapid short cries ('kik-kik-kik')
Facts and Figures
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Do not breed in Australia
Conservation Status
Basic Information
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What does it look like?

The White-winged Black Tern is one of the smaller terns, and the smallest of the three marsh terns. It is most often seen in its nonbreeding plumage of grey back and tail, whitish underwings and underparts. The bill is black, and the head has a variable black horseshoe over the top of the crown and behind the eye. The legs are pinkish black. Many birds acquire their breeding plumage before departing for Eurasia in autumn. In breeding plumage the bill and legs are red, the head and body black, and the wings are grey with a white shoulder and black wing-linings.

The White-winged Black tern is also known as the White-winged Tern.

Similar species: 

The White-winged Black Tern is similar to the Black Tern C. nigra, particularly in its nonbreeding plumage, but the black on the head of the Black Tern is more extensive, extending over the eye and the ear-coverts, and there is a distinctive dark mark on the side of the upper breast near the wing. In breeding plumage the Black Tern has uniformly grey wings with whitish, not black, wing-linings. The White-winged Black tern is less marine than the Black Tern.

Where does it live?

The White-winged Black Tern is found in the coastal and sub-coastal north, east, and south-east of the Australian mainland, and the north and east of Tasmania.


White-winged Black Terns are found in small to large flocks on mostly coastal or sub-coastal wetlands including tidal estuaries, lagoons, grassy swamps, and sewage ponds.

Seasonal movements: 

White-winged Black Terns breed in northern Eurasia, and are nonbreeding summer migrants to Australia as well as to Indonesia, New guinea, New Zealand, and Africa. Some birds overwinter in Australia in their breeding plumage.

What does it do?

White-winged Black Terns feed on insects, spiders and fish. They forage by hawking (i.e. feeding on the wing), dipping (flying 2-4 m above the water then dipping down to take items on or just below the surface of the water), and plunging (shallow dives from 2-4 m).


White-winged Black Terns do not breed in Australia.

Living with us

White-winged Black Terns live on sewage ponds.

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