Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Sterna albifrons Pallas, 1764

Species:S. albifrons
Common Names:Little Tern, Burong Camar Kecil, Camar Kecil
Status:Common resident and non-breeding visitor. Common winter visitor and passage migrant


Malacca Strait, Singapore. Breeds in Africa, Eurasia, the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka, Japan, China, south to Borneo, Java and Bali.


Changi, Hougang, Johor Strait,, Kg Air Gemuroh, Kranji, Poyan, Pasir Ris, Pulau Semakau, Pulau Tekong, Pulau Ubin, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Sentosa, Serangoon, Seletar, St. John's Island, Tanah Merah.

Locality Map

General Biology

The Little Tern winters on the coast, generally near the shore. It is also found inland, along rivers, reservoirs and sandy areas in recently-reclaimed land.

The winter numbers around Singapore seem fairly low, with only occasionally tripel-digit counts (more than 200  biirds had been recorded off Changi).

Earliest date recorded: 4 July; latest date recorded: 19 Jun

Although the bird moves around water, it does take baths, apparently to wash away the salt as a result of catching fishes from the sea.


Its main food is fish, caught from the freshwater reservoirs like giant snakehead or toman (Channa micropeltes), glass fish (Chanda spp.) and common tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus). It also feeds on crustaceans, insects, annelids and molluscs. It forages for fish over water, often hovering above before plunging into the water once it spots a fish. The adults feed fish to the juvenile, sometimes with a fish too large for the latter to swallow. The juveniles always get very excited as the adults approach, calling loudly, jumping, waving their wings and gaping widely. Feeding is done on land and sometimes in water.



Life Cycle

The male usually feeds the female with fish before couplation in a typical courtship ritual. The nest is a simple scrape on the sand or a natural shallow depression where 2-3 eggs are laid. Incubation period is 21-24 days and fledging 20-24 days. The breeding ecology of the Little Tern can be viewed HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE. A PDF copy of the breeding ecology of the Little Terns can be obtained HERE.

Because the nesting is on open ground, some unethical photographers took advantage of the situation to tie the chick to a shrub near the nest for a better pose. Birdwatchers and wildlife photographers were enraged to the extent that  the culprit was eventually apprehended and fined S$500 for cruelty to animals.

Ecological Role


Human Uses




Other Resources



Wang, L. K. & C. J. Hails, 2007. An annotated checklist of birds of Singapore. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, Supplement 15: 1-179.

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