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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

White Tern Gygis alba

Also known as the fairy tern, this delicate and graceful bird wanders far out over tropical oceans, where it is known for its habit of fluttering close to boats. Slim and lightly built, with black eyes and a straight black bill, it is the only tern whose plumage is entirely white. It spends most of its time flying a few yards above the surface, periodically dropping down in order to catch small fish and squid. Unlike most terns, it is a solitary breeder, nesting on widely scattered islands. It lays its single egg on a rocky ledge, or in a slight hollow in a sloping branch. The parents take turns cradling the egg throughout its five-week incubation period—an unusually long time for an egg of its size. The chick emerges with strong feet and claws for clinging to its nesting site.

White Ternzoom image
  • Order Charadriiformes
  • Length 11–13 in (28–33 cm)
  • Weight 3–4 oz (100–125 g)
  • Habitat Open sea, inshore, oceanic islands
  • Distribution Tropical waters worldwide
White Tern habitat mapzoom image