Biodiversity

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 - JAMBA
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Policy Statements and Guidelines Marine bioregional plan for the Temperate East Marine Region (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012aa) [Admin Guideline].
 
Marine bioregional plan for the North Marine Region (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012x) [Admin Guideline].
 
Marine bioregional plan for the North-west Marine Region (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012y) [Admin Guideline].
 
Marine bioregional plan for the South-west Marine Region (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012z) [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
Declaration under section 248 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of Marine Species (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000c) [Legislative Instrument].
 
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - Amendment of the List of Migratory Species (12/03/2009) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2009r) [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 dougallii [817]
Family Laridae:Charadriiformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author Montagu,1813
Infraspecies author  
Reference  
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

Other names: Graceful Tern, Dougall’s Tern

The Roseate Tern is polytypic and several subspecies have been identified, as follows (Higgins & Davies 1996):

  • Sterna dougallii gracillis – breeds in Australia and New Caledonia;
  • Sterna dougallii dougallii – breeds extralimitally in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean, from Britain and USA, to South Africa;
  • Sterna dougallii bangsi – breeds in the Arabian Sea, west Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean, east of China; and
  • Sterna dougallii korustes – breeds in India, Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands, to Myanmar.

The Roseate Tern is a small-medium tern, with a wingspan of 67-76 cm (Higgins & Davies 1996). The Roseate Tern has a slender, pointed, black bill, which develops a red base in the breeding season. The upper wings are grey and the underside is white. Adults have long, flexible tail streamers and orange-red legs (Higgins & Davies 1996).

In Australia, the subspecies gracillis occurs on much of the west, north and north-east coasts, from south-west Western Australia to south-east Queensland, with rare records from north NSW.

In Western Australia, the subspecies is regularly recorded north from Mandurah to around Eighty Mile Beach, in the Pilbara Region. Around the Kimberley coastline, the subspecies occurs at scattered sites, north to the Bonaparte Archipelago and possibly further. Records in south-west Western Australia indicate that the subspecies used to be a sporadic visitor to the region, but occurs regularly at present. In addition, breeding colonies have been established on Lancelin Island and Second Rock, off Western Australia (Higgins & Davies 1996).

In the Northern Territory, the subspecies has a scattered occurrence along the north coast, mainly from Darwin to Gove Peninsula, though birds have been recorded west to North Peron Island and east to the Sir Edward Pellow Islands (Chatto 2001). The subspecies is more widespread in the west and south-west of the Gulf of Carpentaria (Higgins & Davies 1996).

In Queensland, scattered records occur in the south-east Gulf of Carpentaria and west Cape York Peninsula, but birds are possibly more widespread, with large numbers nesting on south-east Bountiful Island. Birds are widespread along the east coast of Australia, south to about Hervey Bay. They are more sparsely distributed, further south, occasionally reaching north Fraser Island (Higgins & Davies 1996). The subspecies also occurs throughout the Torres Strait.

Global Distribution

Globally, the species (Sterna dougallii) occurs in North and South America, along the coasts from Nova Scotia and Maine to North Carolina; and from southern Florida to the Greater Antilles and West Indies. The species also occurs from Honduras, through Colombia and possibly south to Brazil (Higgins & Davies 1996).

In the eastern Atlantic Ocean, the species occurs from the British Isles and Atlantic coasts of France and the Iberian Peninsula to north Morocco, south to Nigeria. Small numbers occur east to Libya and also in southern Africa, from the Cape Province to south Mozambique; from Tanzania to Madagascar and north to Somalia (Higgins & Davies 1996).

In Asia, the species occurs in east Oman, west and south-east India, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Andaman Islands. The species also occurs on the Malay Peninsula to Sumatra and Java, on southern Japanese islands, south to Taiwan, to the south-east coast of China north and west Philippines to north Borneo. The species also occurs from Halmahera to New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu (Higgins & Davies 1996).

The total world population was estimated to be 55 000 pairs during the 1980s, with approximately 8000 breeding pairs in the Australian region (Gochfeld 1983). The Australian population was more recently estimated to be least 15 000 pairs (Milton et al. 1996) and may have been underestimated previously.

The table below details the records for breeding colonies, summarised from Higgins and Davies (1996). Locations with no nest or pair estimates have been excluded and due to the age of some estimates, they are not likely to accurately reflect current breeding numbers.

State/Territory

Location

No. nests

No. breeding pairs

Year of estimate

Comments

Western Australia

Lancelin Island

-

30-75

1975

Two colonies

Green Island

116

-

1960

 

Whittell Island

119

-

1962

Two colonies

Buller Island

-

50

1962

 

South Cervantes Island

30

-

1965

 

North Cervantes Island

5

-

1965

 

South Fisherman Island

-

24

1974

 

North Fisherman Island

-

62

1974

 

Beagle Island

17

-

1965

 

Houtman Abrolhos

-

3441

1994

 

Pelsaert Island

785

2656

1992/1981

Five colonies

Square Island

497

-

1993

 

Post Office Island

250

-

1993

 

Wooded Island

-

30

1943

 

Little North Island

-

552

1993

 

Traitors Island islet

-

2

1993

 

Beacon Island

-

100

1966

 

Long Island

-

1600

1985

 

West Wallabi Island

-

75

1943

 

Eagle Bluff, Shark Bay

-

-

1978

‘Large’ colony

Dirk Hartog Island

300

-

1978

 

Peron Peninsula

7

-

1992

 

Goodwyn Island

-

-

1993

‘Large colony’

Northern Territory

Haul Round Island

-

2000

1972

 

Queensland

South-east Bountiful Island

-

990

1991

 

Wallace Island

-

>5000

1986

 

Saunders Island

-

50

1981

 

Magra Island

-

>400

1981

 

Pelican Island

43

-

1976

 

Nymph Island

11

-

1983

 

Lizard Island

-

5

1974

 

Eagle Island

18

-

1986

 

South Barnard Island

120

-

1985

 

Purtaboi Island

-

6

1988

 

Brook Island

-

<10

1986

 

Holbourne Island

-

50

1993

 

Wilson Island

502

-

1990

 

Wreck Island

40

-

1985

 

Erskine Island

200

-

1989

 

Masthead Island

450

450

1985/1993

 

West Hoskyn Island

-

150

1985

 

lady Musgrave Island

20

-

1928

 

The Roseate Tern occurs in coastal and marine areas in subtropical and tropical seas. The species inhabits rocky and sandy beaches, coral reefs, sand cays and offshore islands. Birds rarely occur in inshore waters or near the mainland, usually venturing into these areas only accidentally, when nesting islands are nearby (Higgins & Davies 1996).

The Roseate Tern is usually associated with coral reefs, where foraging may occurs along the seaward margin, within reef lagoons, or over the reef itself. The species may also forage around islands on the continental shelf, either in lagoons or offshore. They are rarely recorded foraging in shallow sheltered inshore waters (Higgins & Davies 1996).

The Roseate Tern usually roosts or loafs in the intertidal zone on islands, including on the upper sections of beaches, above the high-water mark (but still in the wash-zone) on banks, spits and bars, usually of coral or sand. Birds occasionally roost on exposed rubble banks or on rocky features, such as cliffs, headlands, plateaux, stacks and ledges, among rocks or in crags. Birds can roost in the open, but this is often at the edge of, or among, sparse, prostrate vegetation, including grasses, succulents and herbs, usually comprising less than 25% ground-cover. The Roseate Tern often roosts with other terns, such as the Black-naped Tern (Sterna sumatrana).

Some nests are lined with Casuarina sp. "needles" from nearby trees (McLean 1999). Different islands can be chosen for the breeding colony from year to year. As they do not forage widely from their breeding colonies, suitable nesting islands may be chosen because of nearby aggregations of their pelagic fish prey (Milton et al. 1996).

Breeding Locations

Breeding mainly occurs off the coasts of Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland. Breeding in Western Australia occurs from Second Rock, near Penguin Island, to Lacepede Island. In the Northern Territory, the species mainly breeds on islands from north-east Arnhem Land, down the east coast to the Sir Edward Pellew Islands, although other records occur on Cobourg Peninsula, off Croker Island and on Haul Round Island (Chatto 1998b, 1999, 2001). In Queensland, breeding occurs from south-east Bountiful Island to East Strait Island, on the tip of Cape York Peninsula, along the east coast, south to Lady Elliott Island (Higgins & Davies 1996).

Clutch Size and Breeding Success

The clutch-size of the Roseate Tern is usually one or two, and rarely 3 eggs (Chatto 1999; Hatch & Szczys 2000; Higgins & Davies 1996; McLean 1999). Two egg clutches appear to be more frequent than one-egg clutches among those nesting on inshore islands than offshore (Hatch & Szczys 2000). Breeding success is variable and fledging success is said to be much lower in tropical colonies than in temperate colonies (Milton et al. 1996). Breeding success may be variable in one colony over different years. For example, on island of the north Great Barrier Reef and Northern Territories, total breeding failures and high breeding successes have been recorded (Blaber et al. 1998; Chatto 2001; Milton et al. 1996). On Eagle Island (Queensland), the fledging success for three seasons ranged from 3.8% to 23.5% (Smith 1991). On the Azores archipelago, Portugal, the hatching success rate varied from 58% to 93%, with late-nesting birds achieving only a 40% hatching rate, probably because the parents were young or inexperienced (Ramos & del Nevo 1995).

Breeding Season

The Roseate Tern nests colonially, although single nests are occasionally found (Higgins & Davies 1996). The species often nests with other species, including Lesser Crested Terns (Sterna bengalensis), Crested Terns (Sterna bergii), Black-naped Terns, Fairy Terns (Sterna nereis), Bridled Terns (Sterna anaethetus) and Silver Gulls (Larus novaehollandiae) (BA NRS 2002; Chatto 2001; Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman et al. 1999; McLean 1999).

In Queensland, breeding (nesting, laying and incubation) occurs from September to late December or mid-January, but also into February, March and April (Higgins & Davies 1996). On the Great Barrier Reef, the northern colonies breed during summer and winter (usually March-June and a shorter period during November-December) and the southern colonies breed during spring, summer and autumn (Blaber et al. 1998; Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman et al. 1999; McLean 1999; Milton et al. 1996), though they are also said to breed opportunistically (Smith 1991). Breeding is thought to be influenced by the availability and abundance of food (Milton et al. 1996).

Breeding in Western Australia occurs in two quite distinct periods, with peak months for laying April to November (Higgins & Davies 1996). At some sites, breeding occurs during both late spring-summer and late autumn-winter (e.g. Houtman Abrolhos, Green Island, North Fisherman Island, Whittell Island, Beagle Island and Montebello Islands) (Burbidge & Fuller 1998), but at other sites, breeding occurs only during autumn-winter (e.g. Cervantes, Middle and South Cervantes, South Fisherman and Fremantle Islands) or during spring-summer (e.g. Buller and Lancelin Islands) (Higgins & Davies 1996).

In the Northern Territory, some colonies nest between April and June/July, but the majority nest between September and January/February (BA NRS 2002; Chatto 1999, 2001). Tropical populations can nest throughout the year (Milton et al. 1996).

The Roseate Tern forages mainly on fish, but also on some crustaceans. Fish that have been recorded as being consumed  include: Atherinomorus lacunosus, Hypoatherina uisila, Herklotsichthys quadrimaculatus, Sardinops neopilchardus, Spratelloides gracilis, S. delicatulus and Engraulis australis (Higgins & Davies 1996). Subspecies of Sterna dougallii outside Australia are also known to prey on molluscs (including squid) and insects (Cramp 1985).

The Roseate Tern forages diurnally, mostly on the rising tide, especially in the evening. Birds forage by ‘dipping’; taking prey on, or just below, the surface, and, less often, plunging to take fish on the edges of schools. They join large congregations of other terns feeding on schools of fish that have been forced to the surface by other marine predators. They may steal prey from other tern species (Higgins & Davies 1996). Birds have also been recorded feeding on prawn trawler discards in the north Great Barrier Reef (Blaber et al. 1998).

The movements of Sterna dougallii gracillis are poorly known (Milton et al. 1996). Birds are known to usually move away from breeding colonies following breeding, but their non-breeding range is not well defined (Higgins & Davies 1996). Birds occurring in Europe are migratory, moving to their non-breeding areas in West Africa during September to November and remaining there until May. North American and West Indies colonies move to the north coast of South America and Trinidad, during their non-breeding season. Colonies in south-east China and Taiwan are considered resident and do not migrate.

The movements of other colonies are not known (Ali & Ripley 1969; Coates 1985; Cramp 1985; de Schauensee 1984; Medway & Wells 1976; Rand & Gilliard 1967; Urban et al. 1986). A large group of approximately 25 000 Roseate Terns was observed on Swains Reefs, Queensland, in early 2002. These birds were thought to be Sterna dougallii bangsi on their non-breeding migrations, as some birds had Japanese and Taiwanese leg bands (O'Neal 2002b).

In Australia (Sterna dougallii gracillis), the colonies occurring from Fremantle to Houtman Abrolhos, Western Australia, may be resident or dispersive. There are large annual variations in the number of breeding birds on the islands and the exact location of an island colony varies between years. The movements of colonies from the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, are also not known, though they are considered dispersive (Hulsman et al. 1999), probably moving north after breeding. The Roseate Tern has been recorded as present in the north of the Great Barrier Reef throughout the year, although aggregations appear to occur along the shores of sandy islands during autumn. There are occasional non-breeding records of Sterna dougallii gracillis from Torres Strait. Absence in some areas is associated with poor weather (Higgins & Davies 1996).

Care must be taken when identifying the Roseate Tern, as the species is easily confused with the Common Tern (Sterna hirundo). In non-breeding plumages, the Roseate Tern can be confused with the White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata) and the Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea), in worn juvenile and adult non-breeding plumages. Roseate Terns moulting from juvenile to first immature, non-breeding plumage may also appear very similar to the Black-naped Tern (Sterna sumatrana) (Higgins & Davies 1996).

Australian Roseate Tern colonies are considered to be secure (Garnett & Crowley 2000); however, there are a number of threats known to impact on the species. These threats include:

  • Predation of adults;
  • Egg predation or nest destruction;
  • Storm events;
  • Shifts in food abundance.

Predators of eggs and chicks include the White-bellied Sea-Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster), Silver Gulls (Larus novaehollandiae) and lizards (Higgins & Davies 1996; Hulsman et al. 1999). Turnstones (Arenaria interpres) and large skinks (Egernis kingie) are also suspected predators in some locations (Hatch & Szczys 2000). The Black Rat (Rattus rattus) is a suspected introduced predator; after a rat baiting program on Wreck Island (Great Barrier Reef) the production of young increased (Burbidge & Fuller 1998; Hulsman et al. 1999).

Crushing of chicks and eggs and disruption of breeding due to human activity is likely to be an issue in areas with moderate visitation (Stokes et al. 1996). Storm surges, combined with high tides, can lead to total loss of eggs and young (Stokes et al. 1996); therefore rising sea-levels may threaten breeding populations in the long-term.

Conditions in northern Australia do not appear to be favourable for the rapid growth and breeding success of this species. Pelagic fish populations around inshore islands in tropical Australia may only be able to support limited numbers during the Roseate Tern breeding season. This makes the north-east Australian breeding colonies extremely vulnerable to changes in the availability of prey. It is possible that rapid increases and decreases in prey availability caused by trawling and increased competition from other species, may add to the natural factors influencing the breeding colony size (Blaber et al. 1998). Further to this, cases of mass mortalities in the northern Great Barrier Reef and north-east Northern Territory strengthen the concept that tropical Australian colonies are extremely susceptible to shifts in food abundance during breeding. They appear to be poorly adapted to changes in prey availability, especially in large aggregations (Chatto 2001; Milton et al. 1996).

Colonies in Europe and North America have declined and are considered threatened because of small numbers and restricted distributions. In the north-west Atlantic Ocean, the female-biased sex ratio contributes to the slowness of the species recovery (Hatch & Szczys 2000).

It is suggested that the development on offshore islands where breeding colonies occur and other forms of interference by humans should be limited (Stokes et al. 1996).

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 Roseate Tern has been identified as a conservation value in the South-west (DSEWPaC 2012z), North-west (DSEWPaC 2012y), North (DSEWPaC 2012x) and Temperate East (DSEWPaC 2012aa) marine regions. See Schedule 2 of the South-west Marine Bioregional Plan (DSEWPaC 2012z), the North-west Marine Bioregional Plan (DSEWPaC 2012y) and the North Marine Bioregional Plan (DSEWPaC 2012x) for regional advice. Maps of Biologically Important Areas have been developed for Roseate Tern in the South-west (DSEWPaC 2012z), North-west (DSEWPaC 2012y) and North (DSEWPaC 2012x) marine regions and may provide additional relevant information. Go to the conservation values atlas to view the locations of these Biologically Important Areas. The "species group report card - seabirds" for the South-west (DSEWPaC 2012z), North-west (DSEWPaC 2012y), North (DSEWPaC 2012x) and Temperate East (DSEWPaC 2012aa) marine regions provide additional information.

No threats data available.

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

BA NRS (2002). Birds Australia Nest Record Scheme.

Blaber, S.J.M., D.A. Milton, M.J. Farmer & G.C. Smith (1998). Seabird breeding populations on the far northern Great Barrier Reef, Australia: trends and influences. Emu. 98:44-57.

Burbidge, A.A. & P.J. Fuller (1998). Montebello Islands, Pilbara Region, Western Australia. Corella. 22:118--122.

Chatto, R. (1998b). Higginson Islet, North-east Arnhemland, Northern Territory. Corella. 22:69-70.

Chatto, R. (1999). Low Rock, south-west Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory. Corella. 23:72--74.

Chatto, R. (2001). The distribution and status of colonial breeding seabirds in the Northern Territory. Parks & Wildlife Commission of the NT Technical Report. 70.

Coates, B.J. (1985). The Birds of Papua New Guinea. Volume 1. Alderley, Queensland: Dove Publications.

Cramp, S. (1985). Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa: The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Volume 4. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

de Schauensee, R.M. (1984). The Birds of China. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Garnett, S.T. & G.M. Crowley (2000). The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: Environment Australia and Birds Australia. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/action/birds2000/index.html.

Gochfeld, M. (1983). The Roseate Tern: world distribution and status of a threatened species. Biological Conservation. 25:103--125.

Hatch, J.J. & P. Szczys (2000). Lack of evidence for female-female pairs among Roseate Terns Sterna dougallii in Western Australia contrasts with North Atlantic. Emu. 100:152-155.

Higgins, P.J. & S.J.J.F. Davies, eds (1996). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Volume Three - Snipe to Pigeons. Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

Hulsman, K., T.A. Walker & C.J. Limpus (1999). Wreck Island, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland. Corella. 23:88--90.

McLean, J.A. (1999). Low Wooded Island, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland. Corella. 23:16-17.

Medway, Lord & D.R. Wells (1976). The Birds of the Malay Peninsula, Volume 5. Witherby, London.

Milton, D.A., G.C. Smith & S.J.M. Blaber (1996). Variable success in breeding of the Roseate Tern Stern dougallii on the northern Great Barrier Reef. Emu. 96:123--131.

O'Neal, P. (2002b). Roseate Terns- Missing birds located. Australian Bird Study Association Newsletter. 66:5.

Ramos, J.A. & A.J. del Nevo (1995). Nest-site selection by Roseate Terns and Common Terns in the Azores. Auk. 112:580-589.

Rand, A.L. & E.T. Gilliard (1967). Handbook of New Guinea Birds. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Smith, G.C. (1991). The Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii gracilis breeding on the northern Great Barrier Reef Queensland. Corella. 15:33-36.

Stokes, T., K. Hulsman, P. Ogilvie & P. O'Neill (1996). Management of human visitation to seabird islands of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park region. Corella. 20:1-13.

Urban, E.K., C.H. Fry & S. Keith, eds. (1986). The Birds of Africa. Volume 2. Gamebirds to Pigeons. London: Academic Press.

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Sterna dougallii in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Sat, 26 Jul 2014 14:30:33 +1000.