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 as Vulnerable as Sternula nereis nereis|
|Listing and Conservation Advices||
Commonwealth Listing Advice on Sternula nereis nereis (Fairy Tern) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2011t) [Listing Advice].
Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Sternula nereis nereis (Fairy Tern) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2011u) [Conservation Advice].
|Recovery Plan Decision||
Recovery Plan required, it is a migratory species and requires a complex suite of recovery and threat abatement actions across state boundaries involving a wide variety of land managers and other stakeholders. In addition, there is a wide variety of policies and laws affecting the protection of this subspecies' habitat in the coastal zone (02/02/2011).
|Adopted/Made Recovery Plans|
|Policy Statements and Guidelines||
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].
Federal Register of
Amendment to the list of threatened species under section 178 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (111) (02/02/2011) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2011n) [Legislative Instrument] as Sternula nereis nereis.
Documents and Websites
|State Listing Status||
|Non-statutory Listing Status||
|Scientific name||Sternula nereis nereis |
|Species author||(Gould, 1843)|
|Other names||Sterna nereis nereis |
This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.
South Australia: At the species level, Sterna nereis is listed as Endangered under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972.
Scientific name: Sternula nereis nereis
Common name: Fairy Tern (Australian)
Other names: Little Tern, White-faced Ternlet, Little Sea-swallow, Sea-swallow, Ternlet, Nereis Tern
Conventionally accepted as Sternula nereis nereis (AFD 2008a). The subspecies S. n. exsul is a breeding visitor in the Coral Sea (Carter & Mustoe 2007). Paton and Rogers (2009) claim there are two subspecies on the mainland, S. n. nereis in the south-east and S. n. hornii in the south-west, although key authorities only recognise S. n. nereis in Australia (AFD 2008a; Christidis & Boles 2008).
A small piscivorous (fish-eating) bird, the Fairy Tern is approximately 22–27 cm in length, 70 g in weight and has a wingspan of 44–53 cm (Higgins & Davies 1996). The Fairy Tern is bulky and round bodied (Simpson & Day 2004).
The breeding plumage of both sexes is pale grey-white, with a black crown, nape, ear coverts and patch in front of the eyes (square to round in shape). The forehead is white and the bill is orange-yellow (Higgins & Davies 1996). Legs are dull yellow and the iris is dark brown (Lindsey 1986a).
There is also little sexual dimorphism in non-breeding plumage, with a black bill and a more mottled appearance to the crown (Marchant & Higgins 1990). Outer primary feathers are also less contrasting with no dark shoulder bar (Simpson & Day 2004).
Immature birds have blackish legs and bills (Lindsey 1986a). The crown is streaked dusky and buff with a dark ear patch. The outer wing is dark greyish and the inner wing is pale grey and white (Simpson & Day 2004).
The species is gregarious and often found in flocks of 50–150 birds. However the bird is also seen singularly or in pairs (Higgins & Davies 1996).
Within Australia, the Fairy Tern occurs along the coasts of Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia; occurring as far north as the Dampier Archipelago near Karratha. The subspecies has been known from New South Wales (NSW) in the past, but it is unknown if it persists there (Birdlife International 2010; Garnett & Crowley 2000).
The extent of occurrence of the subspecies is approximately 380 000 km² (TSSC 2011t).
The Fairy Tern's area of occupancy within Australia is estimated to be 1150 km² (TSSC 2011t).
The Fairy Tern is distributed in a large geographic range between Australia, New Zealand (NZ) and New Caledonia. Three subspecies have been identified based on phenotypic, genotypic and geographic differences. The NZ Fairy Tern (S. n. daviase) with approximately 10 breeding pairs is listed as Nationally Critical under the New Zealand Threat Classification System Lists (Hitchmough et al. 2005). The New Caledonian Fairy Tern (S. n. exsul) has approximately 100 breeding pairs (Baling 2008), and has recently been recorded in the Swain Reefs, southern Great Barrier Reef, suggesting regular movements of over 1200 km (Birds Queensland 2011).
Threat Abatement in New Zealand
A recovery plan for the NZ Fairy Tern has been produced (Parrish & Honor 1997; Hansen 2006), aiming to increase population size via a combination of active management, public relations and research. To date, the population has undergone colour banding for identification, DNA-sexing, nest and nesting pair protection, predator-control and database collection (Taylor et al. 2004 cited in Baling 2008). In 2008, the NZ Fairy Tern Charitable Trust was formed with a view to encourage public involvement in monitoring (in conjunction with the NZ Department of Conservation or DOC) and minimising and preventing growing urban development around nesting sites (Baling 2008).
The Fairy Tern (Australian) is said to be declining due to habitat disturbance and predation (Birdlife International 2010). The total number of mature Fairy Terns (Australian) has been estimated at 3000–9000 individuals (Baling et al. 2009) from up to 170 sites (IUCN 2010). More specific estimates, from 2007, indicate numbers of approximately 4300 (TBC 2008).
There is only estimated to be a few hundred pairs in each of South Australia and Tasmania (IUCN 2010). In Victoria, there is estimated to be only a few pairs (IUCN 2010). In Western Australia there are less than 1600 pairs, but the population appears to be relatively stable (IUCN 2010). The Fairy Tern was once considered to occur in NSW (Birdlife International 2009jl), but is now not believed to persist in the state (IUCN 2010).
The Fairy Tern (Australian) nests on sheltered sandy beaches, spits and banks above the high tide line and below vegetation. The subspecies has been found in embayments of a variety of habitats including offshore, estuarine or lacustrine (lake) islands, wetlands and mainland coastline (Higgins & Davies 1996; Lindsey 1986a). The bird roosts on beaches at night (Higgins & Davies 1996).
The subspecies may migrate within southern Western Australia and Tasmania, where are seen less frequently during the winter months. The bird is more sedentary in the north of Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria (Hill et al. 1988).
The oldest recorded individual was 17 years of age (Birdlife International 2010). The generation length of the Fairy Tern has been estimated to be 5 (Garnett & Crowley 2000) or 11 years (Birdlife International 2009jl). No recent estimates are available (Birdlife International 2010).
In Australia, the subspecies breeds in October to February in colonies of various sizes (generally between 2–400 pairs) on coral shingle on continental islands or coral cays, on sandy islands and beaches inside estuaries, and on open sandy beaches (Hill et al. 1988; Higgins & Davies 1996). They nest in clear view of the water and on sites where the substrate is sandy and the vegetation sparse. Nests typically consist of a shallow scrape in the sand which is often lined with small shells and vegetation. Fairy Terns lay one to three eggs, usually two, and incubate for approximately 18 days (Higgins & Davies 1996; Lindsey 1986a).
If breeding fails at one area, the birds will often move to new locations to attempt relaying (Higgins & Davies 1996). Colonies tend to occupy areas rather than specific sites, and nest sites are often abandoned after one year, regardless of success (Saunders & de Rebeira 1985).
Chicks are guarded by at least one parent continually; from the time they begin to move around until approximately 14–15 days of age (Higgins & Davies 1996). Nesting birds can become extremely agitated when disturbed by humans or other animals. Females often crouch on the ground; however males have been known to attack intruders (Higgins & Davies 1996; Lindsey 1986a).
Given the exposed nature of its nesting and roosting sites, the species is vulnerable to extreme weather events such as storms, floods, high tides and windblown sand which can put an entire breeding season at risk.
For example, at Corner Inlet in Victoria the flooding by high tides and smothering of nest sites by wind-blown sand occurs on a regular basis (Garnett & Crowley 2000).
Additionally high tides, flooding, storms, and cyclones in New Zealand were responsible for the loss of 40% of New Zealand Fairy Tern (Sternula nereis davisae) eggs and chicks from 1992–1997 (Parrish & Honnor 1997).
Interbreeding has been recorded between Fairy Terns and the Little Tern (Sterna albifrons) in South Australia (Cox & Close 1977), Victoria (Norman et al. 1996) and NSW (Ross et al. 1999). These birds are members of a 'superspecies'; once a single species diverged over time and now display some individualistic traits. Further interbreeding may break down the genetic distinctiveness of these species (Ross et al. 1999).
The Fairy Tern predates on small bait-sized fish (Van de Kam et al. 2004). Plant material, molluscs and crustaceans have also been recorded; however these are possibly from the stomachs of their fish prey (Higgins & Davies 1996). Fish species consumed by the bird include Anchovies (Engraulis australis), Pilchards (Sardinops neopilchardus) and Blue Sprats (Spratelloides robustus) (Taylor & Roe 2007).
Fairy Terns hover and then dive into shallow waters in order to catch fish; however they may scavenge from shoals of feeding predatory fish (Higgins & Davies 1996).
The Fairy Tern is similar to the Little Tern but differs in having a shorter tail, a bigger head with a larger bill and shorter, narrower wings. Fairy Tern are distinguishable in breeding plumage by their entirely yellow beaks (Higgins & Davies 1996) and the black patch at the eye which does not extend to a point at the bill (Cox & Close 1977).
The main threat to the subspecies is the disturbance of breeding sites by human activities (including bikes, horses and vehicles) and predation by introduced species and birds. It is the species’ nesting behaviours that make the Fairy Tern so susceptible to disturbance and predation.
Disturbance may cause direct destruction of eggs or the abandonment of nesting sites by the birds resulting in egg predation or chilling or overheating of eggs (Higgins & Davies 1996). Predators of the Fairy Tern include Foxes (Vulpes vulpes), Dogs (Canis familiaris), Cats (Felis catus), Black Rats (Rattus rattus), Silver Gulls (Larus novaehollandiae), Pacific Gulls (Larus pacificus), Harriers (Circus spp.) and Ravens (Corvus spp.) (Saunders and de Rebeira, 1985; Hill et al. 1988 In TSSC 2011t).
Fairy Tern nests are a simple scrape in the sand and thus any counterproductive activities in or around the breeding sites are a threat. This includes overgrown vegetation, weed encroachment, housing development, extreme weather events, increased salinity and incorrect water management in waters surrounding breeding sites (Higgins & Davies 1996; IUCN 2010; TSSC 2011t).
Furthermore, increased salinity in waters adjacent to breeding colonies (particularly in the Coorong South Australia) causes local population crashes in the numbers of prey fish. Nest flooding or exposure to predators can occur due to a respective rise or decline in water levels (TSSC 2011t).
In the event of an oil spill, the Fairy Tern would be potentially threatened due to the proximity of the species’ breeding habitat to offshore oil facilities (TSSC 2011t).
Minister's Reasons for Recovery Plan Decision
As a threatened species known to make long distance movements within Australia, the Fairy Tern requires a complex suite of recovery and threat abatement actions across state boundaries involving a wide variety of land managers and other stakeholders. In addition, there is a wide variety of policies and laws affecting the protection of this subspecies' habitat in the coastal zone. Due to this complexity, there should be a recovery plan for this subspecies. Recovery Plan decision date: 02/02/2011.
Commonwealth Conservation Advice
Refer to the Commonwealth Conservation Advice (TSSC 2011u) for information on research priorities and recovery priority actions to mitigate threats including habitat loss, disturbance and modification, animal predation and weeds.
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 Fairy Tern has been identified as a conservation value in the South-west (DSEWPaC 2012z) and North-west (DSEWPaC 2012y) marine regions. See Schedule 2 of the South-west Marine Bioregional Plan (DSEWPaC 2012z) and the North-west Marine Bioregional Plan (DSEWPaC 2012y) for regional advice. Maps of Biologically Important Areas have been developed for fairy tern in the North-west (DSEWPaC 2012y) Marine Region 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) and North-west(DSEWPaC 2012y) marine regions provide additional information.
Management documents for the Fairy Tern (Australian) include:
- The Action Plan for Australian Birds (Garnett & Crowley 2000)
- Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Sternula nereis nereis (Fairy Tern) (TSSC 2011u).
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:Recreational Activities:Habitat disturbance from recreational vehicle use||Commonwealth Listing Advice on Sternula nereis nereis (Fairy Tern) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2011t) [Listing Advice].|
|Human Intrusions and Disturbance:Recreational Activities:Soil disturbance and/or trampling due to bushwalking||Commonwealth Listing Advice on Sternula nereis nereis (Fairy Tern) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2011t) [Listing Advice].|
|Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or habitat degradation by weeds||Commonwealth Listing Advice on Sternula nereis nereis (Fairy Tern) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2011t) [Listing Advice].|
|Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation||Vulpes vulpes (Red Fox, Fox)|
|Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation||Felis catus (Cat, House Cat, Domestic Cat)|
|Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation||Rattus rattus (Black Rat, Ship Rat)|
|Canis lupus familiaris (Domestic Dog)|
|Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Problematic Native Species:Competition and/or habitat degradation||Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae (Silver Gull)|
|Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Problematic Native Species:Competition, predation and/or habitat degradation||Larus pacificus (Pacific Gull)|
|Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Problematic Native Species:Competition, predation and/or habitat degradation caused by Harriers (Circus spp. )|
|Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Problematic Native Species:Competition, predation and/or habitat degradation caused by Ravens and Crows (Corvus spp. )|
|Natural System Modifications:Dams and Water Management/Use:Alteration of hydrological regimes including flooding|
|Natural System Modifications:Dams and Water Management/Use:Alterations to hydrology through water extraction|
|Pollution:Pollution:Declining water quality (salinity, nutrient and/or turbitity)|
Australian Faunal Directory (AFD) (2008a). Australian Faunal Directory. [Online]. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/abrs/online-resources/fauna/afd/index.html.
Baling M., D. Jefferies, N. Barre & D.H. Brunton (2009). A survey of Fairy Tern (Sterna nereis) breeding colonies in the Southern Lagoon, New Caledonia. Emu. 109:57-61.
Baling, M. (2008). Conservation of the fairy tern (Sternula nereis spp.) via subspecies level management. [Online]. Auckland, New Zealand: Pacific Invasives Initiative (IUCN Invasive Species Specialist Group), The University of Auckland. Available from: http://www.fairytern.org.nz/html/documents/baling2008.pdf.
Benoit, M. P., and Bretagnolle, V. (2002). Seabirds of the Southern Lagoon of New Caledonia, distribution, abundance and threats. Waterbirds. 25:202-213.
Birdlife International (2009jl). Sterna nereis. IUCN, ed. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. [Online]. IUCN Red List. Available from: http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3281.
Birdlife International (2010). Sterna nereis. [Online]. Available from: http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3281.
Birds Queensland (2011). All bird sightings - date order. [Online]. Available from: http://birdsqueensland.org.au/sightings_bydate_all.php.
Carter, M. & S. Mustoe (2007). Another form of Fairy Tern Sterna nereis breeding in Australian Territory. Australian Field Ornithology. 24:167-179.
Christidis, L. & W.E. Boles (2008). Systematics and Taxonomy of Australian Birds. Collingwood, Victoria: CSIRO Publishing.
Cox, J.B., & D.G. Close (1977). Interbreeding of Little and Fairy Terns. Emu. 77:28-32.
Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC) (2011ac). Australian Bird & Bat Banding Scheme Database (ABBBSD): Sterna neresis (Fairy Tern). [Online]. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/biodiversity/abbbs/abbbs-search.pl.
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.
Hansen, K. (2006). New Zealand fairy tern (Sterna neresis davisae) recovery plan, 2005-15. Threatened Species Recovery Plan. Wellington, Science & Technical Publishing.
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.
Hill, R., M. Bamford, D. Rounsevell & J. Vincent (1988). Little Terns and Fairy Terns in Australia - an RAOU Conservation Statement. RAOU Report Series. 53:1-12.
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (2010). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. [Online]. Available from: http://www.iucnredlist.org.
Lindsey, T.R. (1986a). The Seabirds of Australia. North Ryde, NSW: Angus and Robertson.
Marchant, S. & P.J. Higgins (1990). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Volume One - Ratites to Ducks. Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.
Norman, F.I., P. Dann & P.W. Menkhorst (1996). The status of seabirds in Victoria. In: Ross, G.J.B., K. Weaver & J.C. Grieg, eds. The Status of Australia's Seabirds: Proceedings of the National Seabird Workshop, Canberra, 1-2 November 1993. Page(s) 185-200. Canberra: Biodiversity Group, Environment Australia.
Parrish G.R. & L. Honnor (1997). New Zealand Fairy Tern (Tara-iti) Sterna nereis davisae Recovery Plan 1997-2002. Threatened Species Recovery Plan No. 23. Wellington: Department of Conservation.
Paton, D.C. & D.J. Rogers (2009). Ecology of breeding Fairy Terns Sternula nereis in the Coorong. [Online]. School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Adelaide, South Australia: University of Adelaide. Available from: http://lakeshub.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Fairy-Tern-info.3.pdf.
Ross, G.A., K. Egan & D. Priddel (1999). Hybridization between Little Tern Sterna albifrons and Fairy Tern Sterna nereis in Botany Bay, New South Wales. Corella. 23:33-36.
Saunders, D. & P. de Rebeira (1985). The Birdlife of Rottnest Island. Guildford: the authors.
Simpson, K. & P. Day (2004). Field guide to the birds of Australia.
Taylor I.R. & E.L. Roe (2004). Feeding ecology of little terns Sterna albifrons sinensis in south-eastern Australia and the effects of pilchard mass mortality on breeding success and population size. Marine and Freshwater Research. 55:799-808.
Threatened Birds Committee (TBC) (2008). Globally Threatened Bird Forums, Birdlife International. Appendix II. [Online]. Available from: http://www.birdlifeforums.org/WebX/.2cba57c5.
Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) (2011t). Commonwealth Listing Advice on Sternula nereis nereis (Fairy Tern). [Online]. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Canberra, ACT: Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/species/pubs/82950-listing-advice.pdf.
Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) (2011u). Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Sternula nereis nereis (Fairy Tern). [Online]. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Canberra, ACT: Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/species/pubs/82950-conservation-advice.pdf.
Van de Kam, J., B. Ens, T. Piersma & L. Zwarts (2004). Shorebirds: An illustrated behavioural ecology. Utrecht, Holland: KNNV Publishers.
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). Sternula nereis nereis in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Tue, 29 Jul 2014 01:39:50 +1000.