Topic: Caspian Tern

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Caspian Tern, also known as Taranui, has the 2008 National Threat Category of Nationally Vulnerable. Caspian terns nest in terneries at the Mangawhai Wildlife Refuge and use Te Arai Beach, Stream and lakes for fishing and the Te Arai stream mouth as a high tide roost.

caspian tern

Photo by Peter Morrison, circa 1960s.

Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne/ Sterna caspia)

The largest of all terns, the Caspian tern is a majestic seabird recognised by its stout, blood red bill, and black head cap.  It is often seen head down hovering above the water.  Ungainly on land the Caspian Tern comes to life in the air. A forceful diver and adept at fishing the Caspian Tern has been known to bludgeon its catch, such as flounder, on a rock with its hefty beak before digesting.  Other characteristic features of the Caspian Tern include a gutteral cry before taking wing.

Range and Habitat

The Caspian tern has a very large range that includes coastlines and inland lakes of North America, Central America, the northern regions of South America, Africa, northern Europe and the Middle East, through to Asia, including the inland seas of central Asia and Russia. 
In New Zealand they breed on both islands. Their colonies are mainly on sandspits and estuarine shellbanks but some do breed in inland areas including Rotorua and Canterbury.  


Breeding from late September to early December.  Nests are shallow unlined scrapes in the sand, Caspian Terns lay up to three eggs per clutch, taking 26-29 days to incubate.  Chicks fledge (can fly) after 33 days.  These chicks will not breed themselves until they are 3- 5 years old.The Caspian tern subsists entirely on fish.

Threats Habitat loss, predation, human disturbance and storms.


Tern colonies or terneries at the Mangawhai Wildlife refuge are roped off from visitors. D.O.C. staff and volunteers trap predators and enforce the no dog/no vehicle restrictions.

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