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chitter, chatter Fairy Tern

Hear all about it!

The Fairy Tern is a common breeding visitor to Rottnest Island. These birds arrive in spring, breed over the summer and leave in the autumn. They are noisy and easy to spot as they keep up a constant chittering as they forage and fly to and from their breeding colonies. These colonies can be various different sizes ranging from 2 to 400 pairs.

These birds nest on sheltered sandy beaches, spits and banks above the high tide line and below the vegetation line. A Fairy Tern’s nest is a shallow scrape in the sand which tends to be lined with small shells and plant material. Their nests also have a clear view down to the water.

The type of nest and nesting site make these birds very vulnerable to disturbance. They can be disturbed by natural events such as storms and very high tides which flood or bury their nests with sand. However, human activity such as trampling and noise is the main problem.  

You may often see these birds in small groups flying close to the shore as they search for fish. They catch these fish by diving into the water with their wings in a steep V-shape. Fairy Terns have been seen diving from up to five metres in the air. Once they have caught their food, they swallow their fish head-first.

Where you can find a Fairy Tern

Conservation Status

Listed as Vulnerable under ICUN (2014). Listed as Vulnerable under WA Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 (2015). All Rottnest Island’s fauna is protected under the Rottnest Island Authority Act 1987.
  • Extinct
  • Extinct in Wild
  • Critically Endangered
  • Endangered
  • Vulnerable
  • Near Threatened
  • Least Concerned

Help keep Rottnest healthy

  • Do ride carefully on the Island
  • Do keep to designated tracks
  • Do enjoy watching them on their own terms

Got a suggestion?

We're always open to feedback on how we can improve Rottnest Island for our visitors and wildlife!