Sandwich Tern (Sterna Sandvicensis)

The Sandwich Tern (Sterna Sandvicensis) is one of the earliest winter migrants to return to the United Kingdom, and can be found around large parts of the British coast.

The Sandwich Tern was named after the town of Sandwich in Kent, but for a long period the bird wasn't found in Kent at all. That has now changed, and the Sandwich Tern can be found around most of the southern Scottish, English and Irish coastline, on the Isle of Man and in north Wales.

The Sandwich Tern flies higher than other members of the Tern family. It is a plunge feeder, and makes a bigger splash and stays underwater for longer than other Terns. It eats fish that live close to the surface of the water, including sprats, sand-eels and whiting.

The Sandwich Tern begins to leave its winter grounds in February. The British breeding season begins in late April, and most have begun the return journey south by October. First year birds spent their first summer in Africa.

The RSPB and the British Bird List place the Sandwich Tern in the genus Sterna, typical white terns. Other authorities place it in the genus Thalasseus, or crested terns.

The Sandwich Tern has a black bill with a yellow tip. The wings are grey above and below, with black wing tips. The legs are short and black. The body is largely white. At the start of the breeding period the head has a black cap, but this fades during the year, and the bird has a white forehead during the winter. The Sandwich Tern has a short forked tail with no streamers. At a distance the Sandwich Tern looks all-white.

The Sandwich Tern breeds in large colonies on the coast. The birds dig a small crape into the ground. The female lays one or two eggs and both parents incubate the eggs. The eggs hatch after 21-29 days. The chicks vary in habit - some stay near the nest, some join larger groups and others wander around the breeding colony. The young fly after 28-30 days, but are cared for by their parents for 3 months.

The Sandwich Tern breeds on shingle or sandy beaches and inland islands. It tends to feed in shallow coast waters, both in and out of the breeding season.

Order: Charadriiformes (Gulls, terns, plovers etc)
Family: Sternidae
Genus: Sterna
Species: Sandvicensis

The Sandwich Tern is found around most of the English coast (apart from South-West). In Wales it is most common in the north-west. It is found around most of the Irish coast (apart from the south coast). It is also found around the southern coasts of Scotland. The UK population migrates to Africa, reaching as far as South Africa.

Elsewhere the bird breeds in North America, Russia and much of Europe.

Physical Details
Length: 36-41cm
Weight: 180-300g
Lifespan: Oldest ringed bird was 30.