The whiskered tern

Writer: Isaac Cohen  |  Editor: Liu Minxia  |  From: Shenzhen Daily

A whiskered tern perches on a rock in Honghu Park in Luohu District on Oct. 24, 2021. 

A new sensation is visiting our city. Recently attracting the attention of birders is the arrival of a whiskered tern (Chlidonias hybrida), at one of the lakes in Honghu Park. This bird is not a common sight in our city.


Whiskered terns are relatively small in size compared to other tern species, measuring about 25 centimeters with a wingspan of 66 cm. A beautiful black cap over its head contrasts amazingly with their white cheeks and red beaks. The tail is forked but not too visible like other terns. Their bodies are covered with white and grayish feathers, but colorations may vary during their life cycles, so you won’t enjoy those beautiful colors all the time.


A whiskered tern perches on a rock in Honghu Park in Luohu District, feeding on a fish, on Oct. 23, 2021.

This species is one of the many migratory species that we will receive in Shenzhen this winter, traveling from different places like southern Siberia and Northern Asia to the south to avoid the cold weather.


Whiskered terns are likely to be found on fresh water bodies during the migration time looking for a wide variety of animals to eat, including insects, amphibians or small fish which they catch by flying over the surface of the water but not by diving like most of other marine species, although they can hover for a while before catching their prey. It is always nice to see them coming and going over a lake looking for food in the surface of the water and then posing on a nearby solid structure to have some rest and finish their meal.


A whiskered tern is seen in Honghu Park in Luohu District on Oct. 24, 2021.

When whiskered terns are not migrating, they tend to create colonies. They will build their nests over marshes or shallow water wetlands covered with vegetation. They will usually lay up to three eggs with both parents taking care of the whole process, from incubation to raising the chicks. 


Not an endangered species, tern populations are relatively stable across the world. Nevertheless, it is not common to see them in city parks. My invitation is to go to Honghu Park to admire these beauties and their fantastic behavior.