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White-winged Tern - BirdForum Opus

Alternative name - White-winged Black Tern

Adult summer
Photo © by michha62
Biebrza, Poland
Chlidonias leucopterus


Adult summer in flight
Photo © by zhangyong
Hebei, China

A small marsh tern, 23-27 cm long, 58-67 cm wingspan, 42-79 g weight.
Short red legs, short dark red bill, black neck, pale gray belly, very dark grey back, white rump, light grey tail, yellowish face, white wings, inner wing is grey with brown-tipped coverts.

In non-breeding plumage, most of the black is replaced by white or pale grey; head with white forehead, black-brown crown, flecked with white, and the hindcrown is blackish with a certain amount of white flecking, broad and white collar; bill becomes black.

In juveniles and moulting adults, the rump is pale grey, becoming grey in both phases late in the year. The clear white collar and rump isolate the mantle as a dark brown 'saddle'. The mantle feathers have narrow paler brown tips, as have the tertials and scapulars.[1]

Similar species

Black Tern is easily distinguished in breeding plumage by its dark grey wings and black bill.

Juvenile and winter birds are more difficult, with the black half-collar and grey rump of Black Tern picking it out from the white neck and rump of White-winged Tern.

Whiskered Tern is also a potential confusion species in winter plumage, best distinguished by its head pattern (white crown and dark mark through its eye, more like a miniature Gull-billed Tern) and pale grey rump.


Adult winter
Photo © by SeeToh
Singapore; October 2014

Breeds in well-vegetated wetlands in southern and eastern Europe (eastwards from the Po Valley in Italy and Poland eastwards across central Asia to southeasternmost Russia. The largest populations are on the steppes of Kazakhstan and southern Russia.

Winters also on freshwater (unlike Black Tern, which mainly winters at sea), throughout sub-saharan Africa, across southern Asia and northern and eastern Australia; small numbers reach New Zealand, where it has also bred once[1].

Rare in western Europe on migration west to Ireland, also a vagrant in North America.


This is a monotypic species[2]..


Photo © by tracker
Liverpool, UK; 12 September 2005

In or near bodies of fresh water and freshwater marshes.



They build a nest of small reed stems and other vegetation, placed either on floating vegetation in a marsh or on the ground very close to water. Two to four eggs are laid.


The diet mainly comprises insects and crustaceans, and to a lesser extent small fish.



  1. Del Hoyo, J, A Elliot, and J Sargatal, eds. 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-8487334207
  2. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, T. A. Fredericks, J. A. Gerbracht, D. Lepage, S. M. Billerman, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2022. The eBird/Clements checklist of Birds of the World: v2022. Downloaded from https://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

Recommended Citation

External Links

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