Black-naped tern

   ›      ›   Black-naped tern - Sterna sumatrana

The black-naped tern (Sterna sumatrana) belongs to the family of gulls and terns, the Laridae.

The black-naped tern is distributed in the islands of the western Indian Ocean, coasts and islands of southeast Asia, western Pacific islands, China and Australia. These tern species have a distinctive black eye-mask joining across upper nape. These terns are polytypic species.
Overview & Quick Facts Description & Identification
Pictures of Black-naped Tern Distribution & Range
Ecosystem & Habitat Diet & Feeding Behavior
Breeding Habits Migration & Movement Patterns
Conservation & Survival IUCN Status
Taxonomy & Classification Bird World

Appearance, physical description and identification

The black-naped tern (Sterna sumatrana) is a medium-sized tern, measuring 31 to 35 cm in length and weighing 95 to 100 grams.

In breeding plumage, black-naped tern species have white head with a distinctive blackish eye-mask joining across upper nape. The mantle and upperwing are very pale gray. The outer primary is dark. The rest of the upperparts are silvery white.

The underparts are gleaming white. In breeders, sometimes the underparts have pink wash. The deeply forked tail has long white tail streamers. The non-breeding adult has a few dark streaks on the hind crown.

The bill is long, sharp and blackish in color. The juveniles have yellow bill. The irises are blackish. The legs and feet are blackish. The call of these black-naped tern species is a sharp, harsh, "chit", "kik" or "chit-er" sound.
Indian birds - Picture of Black-naped tern - Sterna sumatrana
1.Birds of India - Image of Black-naped tern - Sterna sumatrana by Aviceda

Birds of India - Photo of Black-naped tern - Sterna sumatrana
2.Indian birds - Picture of Black-naped tern - Sterna sumatrana by Geoff Shuetrim

Indian birds - Image of Black-naped tern - Sterna sumatrana
3.Birds of India - Photo of Black-naped tern - Sterna sumatrana by Charlesjsharp

Origin, geographical range and distribution

The black-naped tern subspecies S. s. mathewsi are distributed in the islands of the western Indian Ocean and eastern African coast. They breed in Seychelles (Aldabra, Farquhar, Alphonse, Amirante), Chagos Archipelago and Maldive Islands.

The black-naped tern nominate subspecies S. s. sumatrana is distributed in coasts and islands of southeast Asia, western Pacific islands, coastal southeast China, Taiwan, southern Japanese islands and northeast coastal Australia.

In India, breeding black-naped terns are distributed in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Non-breeding, wintering birds occur in the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) of these black-naped tern in Seychelles are, African Banks, Farquhar - South Island and islets, Cosmoledo and Aldabra Special Reserve. The IBA in Malaysia is Talang-Satang National Park.

The IBA of the black-naped tern species in China are, Beiji Islands, Zhongjieshan Islands, Yushan Islands, Wuchishan Dao Nature Reserve, Taizhou Islands, Nanji Islands Nature Reserve, Jiushan Islands Nature Reserve and Dongtou Islands.

The IBA of the black-naped tern species in Japan are Yaeyama islands, Aragusukujima and Iriomotejima Islands, Okinawa coastal islets and Okinawa coastal islets - Marine. The IBA in Taiwan are Matsu Islands Tern Refuge and Northeastern Sea Islets.

Ecosystem and habitat

These black-naped tern species do not normally occur in forests. They normally occur in altitudes from 0 to 100 meters.

The natural ecosystems and habitats of these species include sandy, rocky shoreline, sand bars, sand spits, sea cliffs, rocky offshore islands, coral reefs, shallow seas with macroalgal growth, subtidal mudflats, lagoons, marine lakes and open seas.

Diet and feeding behavior

The diet of this black-naped tern consists mainly of fish. Small surface-schooling fish and young ones of anchovies, flying fish, Old World silversides, herrings, young shads and sardines are their primary food.

These black-naped terns surface-dive to pick small fish in shallow waters around small offshore islands among reeds, sand spits and lagoons. The also forage by shallow plunge-diving.

Reproduction and breeding habits

The breeding season of these black-naped terns is from May in most of the breeding range of subspecies S. s. sumatrana. The breeding season of the subspecies S. s. mathewsi is during September and November. These species are monogamous and breed in small colonies.

The nesting sites of the black-naped tern are located above the high tide line on the shores of islands and coral banks. The nest is a shallow depression in the sand or gravel. The typical clutch contains two eggs. Replacement clutch may be laid following loss of the first clutch.

Migration and movement patterns

These black-naped tern species are partially migratory birds. The southern breeding populations after departing the breeding grounds, spend much of the non-breeding period in the surrounding seas. The northern breeding populations in China and Japan move southward for wintering.

Black-naped tern - Quick Facts

  • Scientific name: Sterna sumatrana
  • Species author: Raffles, 1822
  • Synonyms/Protonym: Sterna Sumatrana Raffles, 1822
  • Family: Laridae › Charadriiformes › Aves › Chordata › Animalia
  • Vernacular names: English: Black-naped tern, Chinese: 黑枕燕鸥, French: Sterne diamant, German: Schwarznacken-Seeschwalbe, Spanish: Charrán de Sumatra, Russian: Светлая темнозатылочная крачка, Japanese: エリグロアジサシ
  • Other names: Blacknaped Tern
  • Distribution: eastern African coast, Seychelles, Chagos Islands, Maldives, Andaman Islands, coasts of southeast Asia and surrounding seas, Australia, southern Japan, China
  • Diet and feeding habits: fish
  • IUCN status listing: Least Concern (LC)

Conservation and survival

The global population size of the black-naped tern (Sterna sumatrana) has not been quantified. The overall population trend of the species is not known.

In most of its range, this tern species is reported to be uncommon to common. The generation length is 6.2 years. Its distribution size is about 61,800,000

Breeding habitat alteration and destruction and human disturbances in nesting sites are the main threats that are endangering the survival of these species.

IUCN and CITES status

The black-naped tern (Sterna sumatrana) does not approach the thresholds for being Vulnerable, either under the range size criterion, or under the population trend criterion or under the population size criterion.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has categorized and evaluated the species and has listed it as of "Least Concern".

The CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) status is ‘Not Evaluated’ for the black-naped tern (Sterna sumatrana).
Taxonomy and scientific classification of Sterna sumatrana
Species:S. sumatrana
Binomial name:Sterna sumatrana
IUCN status listing:
Least Concern
The black-naped tern (Sterna sumatrana) is closely related to the roseate tern (Sterna dougallii), white-fronted tern (Sterna striata), South American tern (Sterna hirundinacea), common tern (Sterna hirundo), Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea) and the Antarctic tern (Sterna vittata).
Popular posts on Birds of India
Long-billed plover Tawny owl
Blue-eared barbet Fulvous-breasted woodpecker
Blue-winged pitta Rosy minivet
European golden-plover Whimbrel
River lapwing Ashy-headed green pigeon
Little owl Malabar barbet
Ashy minivet Common iora
Eurasian curlew Small pratincole
Sirkeer malkoha Asian barred owlet
White-cheeked barbet Brown-capped pygmy woodpecker
Indian pitta Bar-winged flycatcher-shrike
Large cuckooshrike Sociable lapwing
Asian dowitcher Laughing dove
Nicobar pigeon Greater coucal
Andaman green pigeon Boreal owl
Coppersmith barbet Darjeeling woodpecker
Andaman cuckooshrike Long-billed dowitcher
Red-wattled lapwing Fork-tailed drongo-cuckoo
Long-tailed broadbill Common emerald dove
Brown wood owl Large woodshrike
Yellow-wattled lapwing Great snipe
Franklin's gull Barred cuckoo-dove
Blue-faced malkoha Himalayan owl
Brown-headed barbet Speckled piculet
Silver-breasted broadbill Blue pitta
Malabar woodshrike Ashy woodswallow
Small minivet Common ringed plover
Spotted redshank Little swift
Thick-billed green pigeon Andaman hawk-owl
Great spotted woodpecker White-bellied minivet

1.Photo source: (cropped)
Photo author: Aviceda | License: CC BY-SA 3.0
2.Photo source: (cropped)
Photo author: Geoff Shuetrim | License: CC BY 2.0 as on 2/28/18
3.Photo source: (cropped)
Photo author: Charlesjsharp | License: CC BY-SA 4.0
Current topic in Birds of India: Black-naped tern - Sterna sumatrana.
Contact State Tourism or travel agents for bird watching and wildlife tours.