Whiskered Tern

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Habitat: Marine, Salt Lake, Wetland


The Whiskered Tern prefers shallow terrestrial freshwater wetlands, freshwater swamps, brackish and saline lakes, floodwaters, sewage farms, irrigated croplands and large dams.


A whole colony of Whiskered Terns will quickly fly to mob or attack a predator or intruder, including humans. Other waterbirds often take advantage of this protection by nesting within the colony, particularly Hoary-headed Grebes. The terns however have been known to prey on the chicks of small grebes.


Whiskered Terns eat mainly small fish, amphibians, crustaceans, insects and their larvae. There are three main methods of feeding, plunging, dipping and hawking. Plunging involves a hover then dive, with wings raised, from 2 m – 4 m above water. They may also hover and dive to take insects in paddocks. Dipping means that they fly low over water, skimming the surface to take insects from on or just below it. Hawking is taking insects (up to 40mm long) on the wing; Whiskered Terns may hawk over dry plains.


The breeding season of the Whiskered Tern is erratic. They breed in loose colonies in large, often temporary, inland swamps and marshes. The nest is a rough raft of vegetation, either floating or moored. The sexes share nest-building, incubation and care of the young. A single brood is usually raised in a season.