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Sterna fuscata Linnaeus, 1766
Other common names Wideawake, Egg-bird, Whale-bird Conservation status
The Sooty Tern is listed as a Vulnerable Species on Schedule 2 of the New South Wales Threatened Species Conservation Act, 1995 (TSC Act). The Sooty Tern is a distinctively marked, medium-sized tern. Whilst breeding, the plumage of both sexes is black above and white to pale grey on the belly, the outer edges of the wing and the deeply, forked tail. The crown, eyes, bill, legs, feet are black and the forehead is white. In non-breeding plumage, the crown has white streaks and the mantle has white scallops. The juvenile has a “sooty” head, chest and upper parts, a paler grey belly, and the mantle and upper wings are spotted with white. Unlike the similar Bridled Tern, Sterna anaethetus, the Sooty Tern has no extended white eyebrow. The Sooty Tern is vocal and noisy with a high pitched call that can sound like wideawake , a croaking krarrk and a winnying kreeaa.
Description (summarised from Pringle
1987; Higgins & Davies 1996) Length 40-47cm Wingspan 82-94cm Tail 16-22cm Bill 39-47cm Tarsus 21-26cm Weight 120-285g
NPWS Sooty Tern with egg
Y # Tibooburra Y #
$ Lismore $ $ $
Y # $ Gra fton $ r $
Ta mwo rth
Y # $ Port Macqua rie
Y # $ Ne wca stle $ $ $ $ $ Y # r$ $ r Sydney Y # Wollongong $$ $
Lor d Howe Island
Wagga Wa gga
N W E S
The sightings represented on this map are only indicative . They canno t be co nside red as a comprehensive invent ory and may contain errors and omissions.
Sooty Tern pr e 1980 sightings Sooty Tern post 1980 sightings Roads Rivers
Map Compiled Fr om: Species Sightings from the NPWS Atlas of NSW Wildlife Database Roads and Riv ers from A USLIG
Copyri ght NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, August 1999
This map is not guaranteed to be fr ee from err or or omission The NSW National Par ks and Wildlife Serv ice and its employees disclaim liability for any act done or omission made on the information in the map and any consequences of such acts or omissions 50 0 50 100 Kilometer s
NPWS records of the Sooty Tern in NSW
The Sooty Tern has been observed within the tropical and subtropical waters and islands of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans (Pringle 1987). In Australia, individuals are widespread in the tropics and occasional sightings occur along the west and east coasts, from Perth in Western Australia to Bermagui on the south coast of NSW. In NSW, the Sooty Tern is more common off the north coast. Breeding colonies of up to 1,000,000 pairs have been recorded on Lord Howe Island and offshore inlets, and up to 70,000 pairs at Norfolk Island and its offshore islets. (Higgins & Davies 1996)
Recorded occurrences in conservation reserves
Lord Howe Island World Heritage Area (NPWS 1999).
The Sooty Tern is a pelagic species that forages offshore. Individuals are usually only observed onshore during breeding season or when they have been forced there by stormy weather (Pringle 1987; Wood 1991). In the breeding season, colonies of the species nest on coral cays, atolls, sandbanks, rock stacks, cliffs or other offshore islets (Higgins & Davies 1996). Individuals nest in large colonies often in association with Common Noddies. Nests are generally
THREATENED SPECIES INFORMATION
simple, unlined scrapes or depressions on sand, shingle, rock or grass either in the open, in grassy areas, or under tussocks or bushes (Pringle 1987).
The Sooty Tern can be active during the day and night mainly feeding on fish and other small (2-8cm) aquatic animals taken from near the ocean surface. Food may also be scavenged from aerial pursuits of other birds and by hawking for cicadas over forest (Hutton 1991). The Sooty Tern is carnivorous, feeding on squid, crustaceans, fish and hydrozoans. Individuals have been observed feeding in association with tuna that chase suitable prey close to the surface of the ocean (Higgins & Davies 1996). During nonbreeding periods, flocks of Sooty Terns follow large schools of migratory tuna. However, in the breeding season, the species forages close to breeding islands in association with smaller species of tuna (Higgins & Davies 1996). Breeding occurs in small to large colonies, often mixed with other seabirds. The locality may determine the time of breeding and the breeding cycle. Populations have been recorded breeding every twelve months, every nine and a half months and every six
months (Ashmole 1963). During spring a single egg is laid, which is then incubated by both adults for a period of 28 days. Young stay in colonies for up to 70 days and then probably accompany their parents at sea for several months (Brown 1967). Breeding success rates may be low and breeding age is thought to be 4-5 years. (Higgins & Davies 1996)
• • • Disturbance to breeding colonies Predation of eggs by humans Predation of eggs and chicks by cats, rats and other birds, particularly Silver Gulls Infestation of colonies by virusinfected ticks (Feare 1976)
• Protection and maintenance of breeding habitat, particularly to minimise disturbance during breeding season Control of introduced animals on breeding islands
NPWS Sooty Tern with chick
Ashmole N.P. 1963. Molt and breeding in populations of the Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata. Postilla 76: 1-18. Brown W.Y. 1976. Growth and fledging age of Sooty Tern chicks. Auk 93: 179-183. Feare C.J. 1976 Desertion and abnormal development in a colony of Sooty Terns Sterna fuscata infested by virus-infected ticks. Ibis 118: 112-115. Higgins P.J and Davies S.J.J.F. (Eds) 1996. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antartic Birds. Volume 3: Snipe to Pigeons. Oxford University Press, Melbourne. Hutton I. 1991. Birds of Lord Howe Island – Past and Present. Lithocraft Graphics, South Melbourne. NPWS 1999. Atlas of NSW Wildlife. NPWS, Hurstville. Pringle J.D. 1987. The Shorebirds of Australia. The National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Angus and Robertson, Australia. Wood K.A. 1991. Gulls and Terns off Wollongong. Corella 15(4): 96-102.
For further information contact
Threatened Species Unit, Policy and Science Directorate Phone 02 9585 6540. General enquiries: 43 Bridge St Hurstville NSW 2220 Phone 1300 36 1967 or 02 9585 6333. Web site www.npws.nsw.gov.au
© September 1999. Important Disclaimer
While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information in this publication, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service disclaims any responsibility or liability in relation to anything done or not done by anyone in reliance upon the publication’ content. s