Species Profile and Threats Database

For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed marine
Listed migratory - CAMBA, JAMBA
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Policy Statements and Guidelines Marine bioregional plan for the North Marine Region (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012x) [Admin Guideline].
Inshore and coastal foraging seabirds - A Vulnerability Assessment for the Great Barrier Reef (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), 2011g) [Admin Guideline].
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
List of Migratory Species (13/07/2000) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000b) [Legislative Instrument].
Declaration under section 248 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of Marine Species (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000c) [Legislative Instrument].
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Least Concern (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
Scientific name Sterna sumatrana [800]
Family Laridae:Charadriiformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author Raffles,1822
Infraspecies author  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

Scientific Name: Sterna sumatrana, Raffles 1822

Common Name: Black-naped Tern.

Other English names: Blacknaped Tern (Avibase 2008d; Gill & Wright 2006, 2008; Gochfeld & Burger 1996; Higgins & Davies 1996).

The Black-naped Tern is a conventionally accepted species (Bridge et al. 2005; Christidis & Boles 2008; Higgins & Davies 1996).

The Black-naped Tern is a small and slender marine tern (total length 30–32 cm; mean weight approximately 105 g) with a long and deeply forked tail.

Adults are largely white, with: a very pale-grey back, rump and uppertail-coverts and upperwings; a bold, black band extending from the lores, where narrow, across the nape; and a thin blackish outer web to the outermost primary, forming a dark leading edge to the outerwing in flight and to a dark lower edge to the folded wing. The underparts can have a faint pinkish tinge at times. The bill, legs and feet are black, and the eyes dark brown.

Juveniles are similar to adults but with a less clear-cut black nape-band, and with dark mottling and wash to the crown; and dark crescents and white scaling to the saddle and tertials, extending diffusely onto the rear upperbody. The tail has fine dark edges and is less deeply forked than in the adult, and the upperwing is also scaled with black and marked with dusky cubital and secondary bars. The bill is black with a paler base, but the bare parts are otherwise like those of the adult.

Black-naped Terns are often gregarious, especially when they are breeding and roosting, although less so when they are foraging. They occur in groups ranging from a few birds up to approximately 100. They are often seen standing with Crested Terns (Thalasseus bergii), Lesser Crested Terns (T. bengalensis), Bridled Terns (Onychoprion anaethetus = Sterna anaethetus) and Roseate Terns (Sterna dougallii), in large mixed groups, though there tends to be some segregation in these congregations. Black-naped Terns are more likely to land near a group of terns (even another species) than where there are no terns. They often forage with other species of terns and noddies, such as Bridled and Roseate Terns and Black Noddies (Anous minutus). However, during the breeding season, they forage singly (Gochfeld & Burger 1996; Higgins & Davies 1996; Johnstone & Storr 1998; McLean 1999).

In Australia, Black-naped Terns are found mainly in the central noth and north-east of the country, in central and eastern Northern Territory, the Gulf of Carpentaria and Torres Strait and through the islands and waters of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. The species is rarely found in inshore waters except when breeding. In the Northern Territory, Black-naped Terns breed from Bare Sand Island, west of Darwin, and off the Cobourg Peninsula and Croker Island, with only two colonies along the northern coast east to Arnhem Land. Most breeding occurs off north-eastern Arnhem Land, on and around Groote Eylandt and in the Sir Edward Pellew Group of islands, with sparse at-sea records elsewhere along the Top End coasts and in the Gulf of Carpentaria. In Queensland, breeding is widespread from Torres Strait south to approximately 24° S, and the species is common and widespread through the Gulf of Carpentaria, Torres Strait, and south along the eastern coast and through the islands and seas of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea to approximately 24° S, at Lady Elliot Island. In Queensland, the species breeds consistently in the Capricorn and Bunker Groups (Barrett et al. 2003; Blaber et al. 1998; Blakers et al 1984; Chatto 1999, 2001; Corben 1972a; Draffan et al. 1983; Garnett et al. 1988; Higgins & Davies 1996; Lavery 1964b; P. O'Neill 2002, pers. comm.; Serventy et al. 1971; Storr 1984c; Walker 1989; Walker & Oldroyd 1991; Warham 1962).

There are occasional records from further south in Queensland, including Fraser, Bribie and North Stradbroke Islands. The species is a vagrant to NSW (a single bird) and Western Australia (with two records, of six and three birds). It is also recorded as a vagrant to Lord Howe Island (a single bird) (Bigg 1984; Higgins & Davies 1996; Johnstone & Storr 1998; McAllan et al. 2004).

There is no estimate of the extent of occurrence of Black-naped Terns in Australia. The estimated global extent of occurrence is between 100 000 and 1 000 000 km² (BirdLife International 2007m). The source of this estimate is not known, and there are no available data to indicate past declines or future changes.

The estimated area of occupancy of Black-naped Terns in Australia is 8500 km².

The species is widespread in northern and north-eastern Australia, with breeding colonies widely distributed from the Northern Territory to north-eastern and eastern Queensland. In a summary of known Australian breeding sites, Higgins & Davies (1996) listed 68 islands or island groups throughout the Australian range where breeding was known to occur, only three of which were in the Northern Territory. More recent surveys of the Northern Territory recorded confirmed breeding in 72 colonies and probable breeding in another nine (breeding amongst colonies of Roseate or Black-naped Terns), including the three islands listed by Higgins & Davies (Chatto 2001). In a summary of the status of Queensland seabirds, King (1993) listed 29 of the major seabird breeding islands in Queensland as confirmed breeding sites for Black-naped Terns (and another possible site).

There are no known captive populations of this species and the species has not been reintroduced into the wild in Australia or elsewhere.

The species has a widespread and continuous distribution in northern and north-eastern Australia. It is also widely distributed in tropical and subtropical waters of the western and eastern Indian Ocean and the western Pacific Ocean. Although populations of the western Indian Ocean are apparently separate from those of the eastern Indian and western Pacific, there is only slight differentiation between them, to the extent that subspecific recognition is possibly not warranted (Higgins & Davies 1996).

Black-naped Terns breed on islands in tropical waters of the Indian and western Pacific Oceans, with two widely separated populations, which are often treated as subspecies. After breeding, Black-naped Terns disperse to the seas surrounding the breeding colonies.

In the western Indian Ocean, breeding of the subspcies S.s. mathewsi is recorded from the Aldabra Islands, north and east through the Amirante Islands to the Seychelles, Chagos and Maldives Archipelagos and possibly also the Laccadives. In the Asian-Pacific region, breeding of the subspcies S.s. sumatrana is recorded in the north-eastern Indian and western Pacific Oceans, from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the west, to the Malay Peninsula and South-East Asia (as far north as south-eastern China, Taiwan and Japan), and through Indonesia, the Philippines and Micronesia, to northern and north-eastern Australia, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa (Ali & Ripley 1969; Bregulla 1992; Coates 1985; Coates & Bishop 1997; Higgins & Davies 1996; Rinke et al. 1992; Urban et al. 1986; Watling 2001; White & Bruce 1986). Reports of breeding from the Hawaiian Islands are erroneous (AOU 1998). The spcies possibly breeds, or once bred, in Bengal, Bangladesh and southern Burma (Gochfeld & Burger 1996).

There is no accurate estimate of the global population of Black-naped Terns (BirdLife International 2007m; Gochfeld & Burger 1996; Wetlands International 2006), but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population size criterion of the IUCN Red List (< 10 000 mature individuals in conjunction with decline rates and subpopulation qualifiers). Global population trends of the species have also not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (BirdLife International 2007m). Globally, it is listed as Least Concern (BirdLife International 2007m) and the species is probably secure given the widespread dispersion of colonies, which are typically small (Gochfeld & Burger 1996). However, some local populations are apparently under some threat. The species is considered of conservation concern in Samoa, and Wallis and Futuna Islands, and data deficient in Tuvalu and Tokelau (Watling 2001). Populations in Malaysia are thought to have declined, with the population now < 2000 pairs (Gochfeld & Burger 1996).

The proportion of the global population of Black-naped Terns that occur in Australia is not known as there are no estimates of global population. Nevertheless, the known population of Australia appears large compared with the few estimates of populations elsewhere.

The Australian population is reasonably well surveyed as a result of ongoing efforts to describe the seabirds of Australia's islands, published in the Seabird Islands series, in the journal Corella (Australian Bird Study Association), (King & Buckley 1985a; King & Limpus 1983; Walker 1989; Walker & Jones 1986, 1986b) and the comprehensive surveys of breeding seabirds on islands of the Northern Territory by Chatto (2001). Some colonies have been the subject of detailed studies (for example, on One Tree Island [Hulsman 1974, 1976, 1977, 1979]). However, while counts have been conducted on many of these islands, in few cases are there follow-up surveys or data.

There is no accurate estimate of global population of the Black-naped Tern (BirdLife International 2007m; Gochfeld & Burger 1996; Wetlands International 2006). Thousands nest in the south-western Pacific, presumably including Australia, and the species is considered probably one of the commonest seabirds in Indonesia (Gochfeld & Burger 1996). The estimated total annual breeding population in the Northern Territory is some 9000 breeding birds (Chatto 2001). In any one year in Queensland, there are up to approximately 8000 breeding pairs (P. O'Neill & R. White 2002, pers. comm.). The estimated total minimum and maximum breeding population in Australia in Ross and colleagues (1995), of 1710–2080 breeding pairs, appears to be a serious underestimate for Australia given the surveys of Chatto (2001) in the Northern Territory and the more recent estimate for Queensland.

The two disjunct populations of Black-naped Terns recognized as subspecies appear to be geographically isolated (Gochfeld & Burger 1996; Higgins & Davies 1996) and it is unlikely that there is much genetic interchange between them. However, the two populations are little differentiated and subspecific recognition is possibly not warranted (Higgins & Davies 1996).

Global population trends for the species have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations) (Birdlife International 2007m). The Australian population is considered secure (Garnett & Crowley 2000).

Black-naped Terns appear to not usually undergo extreme fluctuations in numbers, extent of occurrence or extent of occupancy.

There are no data on generation length for this species.

Whereas there are many known breeding islands and island groups in Australia, there are few large breeding colonies. Colonies on the Northern Territory coast are considerably and consistently larger than colonies in other parts of Australia (Chatto 2001; Higgins & Davies 1996).

Breeding colonies of the Northern Territory coast ranged in size from a few pairs to > 1300 birds, with most colonies comprising 11–100 birds (n = 40 of a total 72 colonies) or 101–500 birds (n = 23). Only four colonies had > 500 birds breeding on at least one occasion during the surveys (Chatto 2001). Colonies of 500 birds or more in the Northern Territory include: two islands off south-eastern Groote Eyland (500 birds on each); Low Rock, between Groote Eylandt and the mouth of the Roper River (800); Amagbirra Island, north-west of Groote Eylandt (760); Grant Island, east of Croker Island, north-western Arnhem Land (1300); and New Year Island (500) (Chatto 1998b, 1999, 2001). In Queensland, the maximum size of colonies is approximately 500 breeding pairs (P. O'Neill & R. White 2002, pers. comm.). Surveys of colonies numbering 100 pairs or more include: Raine Island (140 nests); Sandbank No. 7 (~150 nests); Davie Cay (250 pairs); Nymph Island (104 nests); Eagle Island (335 clutches); Purtaboi Island (114 pairs); Brook Islands (250 pairs or more); Bylund Cay (200 nests or pairs); Wreck Island (130 nests); and One Tree Island (138 pairs) (Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman 1977; King 1986; King & Buckley 1985a; King & Limpus 1983; Limpus & Lyon 1981; Smith 1994; Smith & Buckley 1986; Thorsborne & Thorsborne 1986; Walker 1986a, 1993; Walker & Jones 1986).

No hybridisation between Black-naped Terns and other species has been reported (Gochfeld & Burger 1996; Higgins & Davies 1996; McCarthy 2006).

The widespread distribution of the species on islands in northern and north-eastern Australia means it is recorded in many conservation reserves.

Within the Northern Territory, all but a few of the islands on which the species breed are Aboriginal land but several colonies associated with the Cobourg Peninsula are designated conservation reserves (for example Sandy Island No. 1) (Chatto 2001). None appears to be actively managed for this species. In Queensland, most of the seabird breeding islands within the Great Barrier Reef system are state national parks, and the Great Barrier Reef and its waters are within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP), which is managed by the Commonwealth's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) (Stokes et al. 1996).

In northern and north-eastern Australia, Black-naped Terns breed and roost on islands, which are very occasionally close to or attached to the mainland at low tides, and forage in seas surrounding colonies. Black-naped Terns are mainly associated with small, offshore sand and coral cays, coral reefs and lagoons, and sandy and rocky islands and islets, and in the surrounding seas. The species is only occasionally recorded in inshore waters away from their breeding colonies or coastal mainland Australia, such as harbours or bays, with their occurrence inshore probably being influenced by climatic conditions (Chatto 2001; Gochfeld & Burger 1996; Higgins & Davies 1996).

Black-naped Terns usually nest in exposed, open sites, in simple, usually unlined depressions on bare sand or shingle beaches of cays, reefs and islands, typically in the narrow strip just above the high-water mark where debris collects. Occasionally they nest on spits, bare rock or among coral rubble or, more rarely, on top of logs or on structures, such as shipwrecks. Nests are usually away from vegetation or occasionally near the edge of vegetation, among grass and shrubs, or, rarely, beneath trees. Nests are placed up to 1.5 m above the high-water mark and 9–15 m from the sea (Chatto 2001; Gochfeld & Burger 1996; Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman & Smith 1988; King 1986; McLean 1999; Walker 1986a, 1989). Black-naped Terns generally forage on and around coral reefs, over lagoons, reef-flats, reef-crests and reef-edges as well as rock pools and the open sea beyond the surf-zone along outer reefs. They forage further out to sea outside of the breeding season. During the breeding season, > 80% of birds forage within 2 km of their colonies (Chatto 2001; Gochfeld & Burger 1996; Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman 1974, 1976; Hulsman & Smith 1988; Serventy et al. 1971; Smith 1990, 1993).

Black-naped Terns usually roost near the edge of the water, on sandy beaches or spits and occasionally on rubble banks or rocks. They roost at their nesting areas during the breeding season. On One Tree Island, timing of roosting depends on tidal cycles and the heights of tides and use of different roosting sites varies with height of tides, wind and presence of other birds (Chatto 2001; Gochfeld & Burger 1996; Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman 1974, 1977).

There is no information on the use of refuge habitats by Black-naped Terns.

Black-naped Terns are not known to rely on any threatened ecological community in Australia, nor are they specifically associated with any threatened species, although they potentially share habitat with such species. Black-naped Terns will often nest, roost or forage close to other species of terns, especially Roseate Terns, but also often with Crested, Lesser Crested and Bridled Terns, sometimes in large mixed groups, though there may be some segregation within such congregations (Chatto 2001; Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman 1977; Walker 1986a).

There is no information on the age of first breeding, overall life expectancy or mortality of Black-naped Terns.

Black-naped Terns are colonial nesters, but very occasionally nest as apparently solitary pairs. They often nest in association with Roseate Terns, but also with Bridled and Crested Terns, Silver Gulls (Larus novaehollandiae) and Brown Boobies (Sula leucogaster).

In the Northern Territory, the main period of breeding is September-December, with some breeding also recorded in January and April-July. Breeding within these colonies is asynchronous, particularly in the smaller colonies. In Queensland, breeding is mainly from August-September through to March, with some nesting in June-July, especially in the north and in the Swain Reefs. Replacement clutches are laid following losses. On some islands, the timing of nesting and the size of colonies varies between years (Blaber et al. 1998; Chatto 1998b, 1999, 2001; Draffan et al. 1983; Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman 1977; Hulsman & Smith 1988; P. O'Neill 2002, pers. comm.). The usual clutch is two, occasionally one or three, though the latter is probably the result of two females laying in the same nest or eggs rolling from one nest into another (Chatto 1999, 2001; Higgins & Davies 1996; McLean 1999; Smith 1994). Annual breeding success varies greatly. On One Tree Island, over three seasons, overall annual success ranged from 0 to 19% (from 436 eggs, 23.2% hatched and 9.4% resulted in fledged young). On Eagle Island, over three seasons, annual success ranged from 0.8 to 27.1% (from 546 eggs, 55.5% hatched and 12.8% resulted in fledged young). Success rate is higher in colonies next to vegetation (Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman & Smith 1988; Serventy et al. 1971).

When breeding, Black-naped Terns require sufficient available food to raise young, and, in the northern Great Barrier Reef, they time laying to coincide with the phases of the moon in summer when small, surface-schooling fish are most abundant in the shallow waters close to colonies (Smith 1990). In colonies, eggs are laid in depressions in the sand or crevices in shingle, coral brecchia, or sometimes with no apparent preparation. Nests are sometimes lined with small pieces of smooth coral or fragments of shells or depressions are sometimes surrounded by small pebbles, pieces of coral shingle and shells (Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman & Smith 1988; Smith & Ogilvie 1989; Walker 1986a, 1989). In the Northern Territory, nesting substrates were sand (n = 6), coral rubble (8), rock (30), sand and coral or debris (12), sand and grass or other vegetation (1), rocks and grass or other vegetation (6) and a mix of all of these (4) (Chatto 2001).

Nesting on the ground makes nests of Black-naped Terns liable to destruction by both high and storm tides, and cyclonic weather and associated flooding; and to predation by ground predators and gulls. Silver Gulls are a major predator of eggs and small chicks at some colonies. Black-naped Terns are highly susceptible to human disturbance when nesting and depredation by gulls increases if adults are disturbed from their nests. (Chatto 2001; Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman 1977; Hulsman & Smith 1988; Hulsman et al. 1999; WBM Oceanics & Claridge 1997).

Black-naped Terns feed solely on fish, mainly Engaulidae, Exocoetidae, Atherinidae and Clupeidae. In Australia, fish eaten include species of: Apogonidae, Atherinidae (including Atherinomorus lacunosus, Pranesus capricornensis, Hypoatherina uisila), Blenniidae (including Belnnies), Carangidae, Clupeidae (including Spratelloides delicatulus, Amblygaster sirm, Herklotsichthys quadrimaculatus), Coryphaenidae, Engraulidae (including Encrasicholina, Engraulis australis), Exocoetidae, Gobiidae, Hemiramphidae, Labridae, Mugilidae, Parapercidae, Pinguipedidae, Pomacentridae, Scombridae and Sphryroenidae. Mean length of prey 35 mm, but take fish up to 100 mm long (Gochfeld & Burger 1996; Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman 1974, 1976, 1981, 1987; Hulsman & Smith 1988; Smith 1990).

Black-naped Terns usually forage diurnally, but foraging is also regulated by the tidal cycle (with most birds roosting at high tides). In Australia, the species forages mainly by dipping, taking prey from the surface of the water or from just below it, and sometimes by shallow plunging. In a worldwide summary of feeding behaviour, the species is said to forage mainly by shallow plunge-diving, less often by surface-dipping and occasionally by swim-dipping. Black-naped Terns often forage over schools of fish that have been forced to the surface by marine predators. Birds tend to forage singly when breeding but often forage with conspecifics and other species of terns and noddies, such as Bridled and Roseate Terns and Black Noddies, at other times. They will steal food from conspecifics and other species of birds, and have food stolen from them by Silver Gulls and Roseate Terns (Gochfeld & Burger 1996; Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman 1974, 1976; Hulsman & Smith 1988; Smith 1990, 1993).

Outside of Australia, Black-naped Terns are mostly sedentary or resident around colonies, with birds present throughout the year (Gochfeld & Burger 1996; Higgins & Davies 1996). In Australasia, Black-naped Terns are varyingly dispersive or resident, completely vacating some islands at the end of breeding whereas they remain throughout the year at, or near, other colonies, albeit in lower numbers. Most of the breeding population from the Capricorn and Bunker Groups have been found to winter near their colonies, further north in the Swains Reefs, as shown by recent leg-flag recoveries. However, the non-breeding range of most birds that move away from their breeding sites is not known, but at least some move long distances. One Australian-banded bird was recovered in Papua New Guinea, approximately 440 km north-west of the banding site. Black-naped Terns return annually to some colonies, but irregularly to others. On some islands, the timing of nesting and the size of colonies also varies between years. If leaving colonies, adults and young leave together. Non-breeding birds and immatures occasionally rest on some islands where breeding does not occur. Small numbers of birds range south of their breeding sites on the eastern coast of Australia. On return to breeding colonies, between August and October in Queensland, there may be a dramatic increase in number in only a few days (Anon. 1990b; Blaber et al. 1998; Dobbs 2005; Gochfeld & Burger 1996; Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman & Smith 1988; King 1993; P. O'Neill 2002, pers. comm.; Smith & Buckley 1986; Walker & Hulsman 1989; Walker & Oldroyd 1991).

During the breeding season, most birds forage within 2 km of the colony, and usually closer when feeding mates or young. Breeding pairs defend a small territory immediately around the nesting site (Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman 1977; Hulsman & Smith 1988; Smith 1990).

The Black-naped Tern is distinctive, especially adults. It has some resemblance to juvenile and non-breeding Little Terns (Sternula albifrons), which have a superficially similar head-pattern, and confusion is also possible with dark-billed juvenile and transitional Fairy Terns (Sternula nereis), though the two are unlikely to overlap in range. Juvenile and immature Black-naped Terns could also be confused with similarly aged Roseate Terns (Higgins & Davies 1996).

Most surveys of the Black-naped Tern are ground counts of breeding or roosting birds on islands, conducted from the shoreline or from boats (for example, Chatto 2001). The islands on which the species breeds need to be visited by boat or, where access by boat is difficult or impossible, by helicopter (Chatto 2001). Ground surveys have been conducted by researchers moving on foot (Garnett et al. 1988) and by aerial survey, using either fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters (Chatto 2001). Surveys of breeding birds need to be conducted when birds are nesting, which can be unpredictable. Determination of numbers in large colonies can be difficult (Chatto 2001) but many colonies are small, and at least in the Great Barrier Reef, colonies are usually linear making censusing easier (Hulsman & Smith 1988). Surveys at sea would use standard seabird-counting methods from vessels.

Black-naped Terns are highly sensitive to human disturbance when roosting or nesting. As surface nesters, such human disturbance can be a threat by causing adults to leave nests, exposing eggs and chicks to potential predation. Whereas such disturbance is likely to increase in Australia, most of the islands on which the species breeds in Queensland are within reserves, with access controlled, and most lie within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. In the Northern Territory, although few colonies are within reserves, most are on Aboriginal land and are quite remote (Chatto 2001; Higgins & Davies 1996; WBM Oceanics & Claridge 1997).

Silver Gulls are major predators of eggs and small chicks at some colonies (regardless of human disturbance). In the Northern Territory, Silver Gulls no doubt take eggs and young, although gulls tend not to nest near Black-naped Terns as often as they do with some other species (only 12% of Black-naped Tern sites had Silver Gull colonies on the same island). In Queensland, predation of Black-naped Terns by gulls was reduced if the Terns nested at the same time as Crested Terns. Other predators of eggs and chicks include Ruddy Turnstones (Arenaria interpres); and Black Rats (Rattus rattus), which if abundant can result in much predation of eggs and chicks and breeding failure. Breeding has also failed when Black-naped Terns have been displaced by Lesser Crested Terns, or eggs incidentally destroyed by Brown Boobies. Turtle nesting also probably affects some colonies in the Northern Territory (Chatto 2001; Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman 1977; Hulsman et al. 1999; Serventy et al. 1971; Smith & Buckley 1986; WBM Oceanics & Claridge 1997).

In the Northern Territory, eggs of Black-naped Tern are harvested by Aboriginal people. However, as the eggs of Black-naped Terns are smaller in size than those of other terns such as the Crested Tern, combined with the fact that colonies are typically not as large nor as predictable in terms of nesting stage as other terns,their eggs are less frequently taken than those of other species (Chatto 2001).

Cyclones and storms, and associated tidal surges and flooding, can cause loss of eggs and young (Chatto 2001; Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman 1977; Hulsman & Smith 1988; Hulsman et al. 1999; Langham 1986; WBM Oceanics & Claridge 1997). Nevertheless, even if causing total failure at some colonies, such events are not likely to affect the species severely.

For Black-naped Terns, which are considered to be one of the more sensitive surface nesters on tropical islands, observations in the southern Great Barrier Reef indicate that 80 m is the critical approach distance on shore, but that birds could be approached to within 30 m by people in small boats offshore before birds flew up from a breeding colony. The motor should be idling or turned off to allow a closer approach, and approaches to within about 30 m of colonies is possible by rowing very slowly towards them and dropping anchor chains with minimal noise (Chatto 2001; Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman 1977; Hulsman & Smith 1988; Hulsman et al. 1999; WBM Oceanics & Claridge 1997).

Total closure of seabird breeding islands occurs on significant islands, with human access by people usually only permitted for research purposes. At Wreck Island, in the Mackay-Capricorn Section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the zoning calls for total closure of the island to protect a turtle colony and breeding seabirds, including Black-naped Terns, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters (Puffinus pacificus ) and Roseate Terns (WBM Oceanics & Claridge 1997). All people, including researchers, need to be aware of and maintain recommended critical approach-distances from nesting and roosting birds (Stokes et al. 1996; WBM Oceanics & Claridge 1997).

Marine bioregional plans have been developed for four of Australia's marine regions - South-west, North-west, North and Temperate East. Marine Bioregional Plans will help improve the way decisions are made under the EPBC Act, particularly in relation to the protection of marine biodiversity and the sustainable use of our oceans and their resources by our marine-based industries. Marine Bioregional Plans improve our understanding of Australia's oceans by presenting a consolidated picture of the biophysical characteristics and diversity of marine life. They describe the marine environment and conservation values of each marine region, set out broad biodiversity objectives, identify regional priorities and outline strategies and actions to address these priorities. Click here for more information about marine bioregional plans.

The Black-naped Tern has been identified as a conservation value in the North (DSEWPaC 2012x) Marine Region. The "species group report card - seabirds" for the North (DSEWPaC 2012x) Marine Region provides additional information.

There have been several important studies on various aspects of the biology of Black-naped Terns in Australia, primarily on islands of the Great Barrier Reef, particularly those of Hulsman (1974, 1976, 1977, 1981, 1987), Hulsman and Smith (1988) and Smith (1990, 1993). Blaber and colleagues (1998) evaluated seabird breeding populations in the northern Great Barrier Reef, and Chatto (2001) summarises the results of major surveys in the Northern Territory to identify breeding colonies and roosting sites. Detailed summaries of current knowledge of the species in Australasia are found in Higgins and Davies (1996), and international summaries in Gochfeld and Burger (1996) and Urban and colleagues (1986).

There are no species-specific management documents for Black-naped Terns known, but guidelines have been prepared for managing human visitation to seabird breeding islands (Stokes et al. 1996; WBM Oceanics & Claridge 1997).

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Human Intrusions and Disturbance:Human Intrusions and Disturbance:Human induced disturbance due to unspecified activities Sterna sumatrana in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006ya) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Rattus rattus (Black Rat, Ship Rat) Sterna sumatrana in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006ya) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Problematic Native Species:Competition and/or predation by birds Sterna sumatrana in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006ya) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Problematic Native Species:Predation by reptiles Sterna sumatrana in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006ya) [Internet].
Species Stresses:Species Stresses:unspecified Sterna sumatrana in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006ya) [Internet].

Ali, S. & S.D. Ripley (1969). Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan. Volume 3. Bombay: Oxford Unversity Press.

American Ornithologists Union (AOU) (1998). Check-list of North American Birds. Seventh Edition. Washington, DC: American Ornitholoigsts Union.

Anon (1990b). Recovery round-up. Corella. 14:65-66.

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Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Sterna sumatrana in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Fri, 19 Sep 2014 12:21:27 +1000.