Species information

The Australian Fairy Tern is a small Tern about 25 cm length with a white body and light bluish-grey wings and a forked tail. The bill is orange-yellow and the legs are dull yellow. A small black patch extends no further than the eye and not as far as the bill. In the breeding plumage both the beak and the legs are yellowish-orange. The Fairy Tern is found on coastal beaches, inshore and offshore islands, sheltered inlets, sewage farms, harbours, estuaries and lagoons. They nest above the high-tide mark on sandy beaches, spits or ridges, laying their one or two speckled eggs in a shallow scrape in the sand, sometimes lined with small shells or seaweed The Fairy Tern feeds almost entirely on fish which they swallow head first. It is a key species in the Gippsland Lakes Ramsar Site Management Plan and an iconic species

Fairy Tern_chicks


The main threat to the Australian Fairy Tern is the disturbance of breeding sites by human activities (including bikes, horses and vehicles) and predation by introduced species and birds. Disturbance may cause direct destruction of eggs or the abandonment of nesting sites by the birds resulting in egg predation or chilling or overheating. Other threats include; weed encroachment, exposure to predators housing development, extreme weather events, oil spills, increased salinity and incorrect water management in waters surrounding breeding sites causing nest flooding.

What's being done?

Efforts to save the species are being supported by a $26,000 grant through the Victorian Government’s Biodiversity On-Ground Action Icon Species Grants program, which funds targeted actions designed to protect and conserve Victoria’s threatened species.

This funding is going towards:

  • Restoring nesting habitat in an area considered to be an important stronghold for the species in Victoria.
  • Building on previous beach re-nourishment work, on-ground maintenance and the addition of shell grit to increase the site's viability and suitability as a breeding site for Fairy Terns.

Who's helping?

Conserving Victoria's threatened species requires a collaborative approach. There are a number of organisations and groups working to protect Australian Fairy Terns, these include:

  • The Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP)
  • BirdLife Australia
  • Parks Victoria
  • East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority
  • Gunaikurnai Land and Water Aboriginal Corporation
  • Gippsland Ports


Draft National Recovery Plan for the Australian Fairy Tern Sternula nereis nereis (environment.gov.au)

Approved Conservation Advice for Sternula nereis nereis (Fairy Tern) (environment.gov.au)

Page last updated: 09/08/21