Little tern: Sterna albifrons

Sterna albifrons

This small chattering bird puts on one of the best displays in British skies, an imposing aerial courtship dance that begins when the male calls, carrying a fish to attract a mate. The female responds by chasing him to dizzy heights, before he outwits her by descending at speed with wings held out in a "V" shape. Little terns can be seen in the UK from April to September, but as they only number about 5,000 they are a difficult bird to spot.

The little tern is grey and white with a short tail and yellow legs, a yellow bill with a black tip, and a white forehead (which distinguishes it from other types of tern). It is fast in flight and has a frantic, jerky wing action.

Where they live

Unfortunately for the little tern, its nesting sites are very popular with humans too, as they favour shallow nests on sand and shingle beaches. The UK's largest little tern colonies are found along the south and east coasts of both Scotland and England. They lay their eggs in nests on the ground and can be quite defensive when breeding.

How to spot them

Good spots for seeing the little tern include Blakeney Point and Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, Minsmere in Suffolk and Langstone harbour in Hampshire. Watch out for a hovering bird that plunges head first into the water to catch fish. These noisy birds make a high-pitched chattering sound.

Spotter's ratings:

★★★★★ I don't believe it!

★★★★ Yabba dabba do!

★★★ Respec'!

★★ Nice to see you, to see you ...

Am I bovvered?

The GuardianTramp

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