Roseate Terns are small-medium terns, 33-36 cm long with a 67-76 cm wingspan, which can be confused with the Common Tern, Arctic Tern, and the larger, but similarly plumaged, Sandwich Tern. Their thin sharp bill is black, with a red base which develops through the breeding season. It is shorter-winged and has faster wing beats than Common or Arctic Tern. The upper wings are pale grey and its under parts white, and this tern looks very pale in flight, like a small Sandwich Tern, although the outermost primary flight feathers darken during the summer. The adults have very long, flexible tail streamers and orange-red legs. In summer, the underparts of adults take on the pinkish tinge which gives the bird its name.

Habitat and Distribution

S. d. dougallii breeds on the Atlantic coasts of Europe and North America, and winters south to the Caribbean and west Africa. The tropical forms S. d. korustes and S. d. bangsi are resident breeders from east Africa across the Indian Ocean to Japan. They have more red on the bill. The long-billed and short-winged S. d. gracilis breeds in Australia and New Caledonia. The S. d. arideensis subspecies occur in the Indian Ocean. Roseate Terns breed on coasts and islands.


Roseate Tern feeds by plunge-diving for fish.They also steal fish from other seabirds.


Roseate Terns nest in a ground scrape, often in a hollow or under dense vegetation, and lays one or two eggs. They are less defensive of the nest and young than other white terns.

Calls and Songs

The call of the Roseate Tern is a very characteristic chuwit, similar to that of the Spotted Redshank, quite distinct from other terns.