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Little tern


length 22-24 centimeters
wingspan: 48-55 centimeters


56 grams


light gray back, black head cap with white forehead, yellow beak with black tip, orange-yellow legs


maximum 18 year


small fish, such as lesser sandeel and sprat


maturity: 3 years
number of eggs: 2-3 per nest

  • Dut: Dwergstern
  • Eng: Little Tern (least tern)
  • Fren: Sterne naine
  • Ger: Zwergseeschwalbe
  • Dan: Dværgterne
  • Nor: Dvergterne
  • Fries: Lytse stirns
  • Ital: Fraticello
  • Lat: Sterna albifrons
Little tern (least tern), Henk Tromp

Little tern

The little tern is the smallest European tern and also a very brave bird. It chooses to make its nest in places where other birds wouldn't dare. That limits any competition. Little terns often lay their eggs in nothing more than a hollow in the sand. By nesting in such risky places, the colonies often lose eggs during high tide and the chicks turn numb due to a lack of shelter. By nesting in small colonies, they spread the risk.

On Texel

Little terns also nest on Texel. The beach plain on the Hors and the new inner dike shell beaches by Utopia in particular are popular. The numbers have been declining over the years. The reasons are related to summer storms, which wash away nests lying in outer dike regions, lack of food and nest predation. In 2012, 53 nests were counted on Texel.

  • Population development in the wadden region
    Little tern feeding chick, Chiel Jacobusse

    Up till the 1960s, there were 1000 pairs of little terns nesting in the Netherlands. However, suitable undisturbed nesting areas became scarse with the arrival of the Delta Works, the expansion of the harbor of Rotterdam and the massive increase in beach recreation. In 1970 there were no more than 100 nesting pairs.
    In 1993, the Dutch Bird Society began a campaign for the little terns: 'Actieplan Dwergstern’. The purpose was to raise the minimum number of nesting pairs in the country to 600. It was a success. In 2008, the nesting population in the Netherlands was 850 pairs, of which more than 50% in the delta region.