Sandwich tern

Sandwich Tern

©Bertie Gregory/2020VISION

Sandwich Tern

©Bertie Gregory/2020VISION

Sandwich tern

Scientific name: Sterna sandvicensis
Found around our coasts during the breeding season, the large sandwich tern can be spotted diving into the sea for fish such as sandeels. It nests in colonies on sand and shingle beaches, and islands.

Species information


Length: 36-41cm
Wingspan: 1m
Weight: 250g
Average lifespan: 12 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Amber under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015).

When to see

March to September


The sandwich tern is a relatively large tern, which breeds in colonies on sand and shingle beaches, islands and spits. Sandwich terns feed on fish, such as sandeels, sprats and whiting, which they catch by diving into the water.

How to identify

The sandwich tern is whitish-grey above and white below, with a large black cap (the forehead becomes white in winter) and a shaggy, black crest. It has short, black legs, and a black bill with a yellow tip. It has a short tail without 'streamers' (long feathers extending past the main tail).


A summer visitor to sandy beaches and islands around our coastline, particularly in the south and east of England.

Did you know?

Named after Sandwich Bay in Kent, the sandwich tern is one of three birds to be named after Kent - the others are the Kentish Plover and the Dartford Warbler.

How people can help

Many of the important sandwich tern colonies in the UK survive because they are on nature reserves specifically looked after for their wildlife value. The Wildlife Trusts manage many coastal nature reserves for the benefit of the wildlife they support. You can help by supporting your local Trust and becoming a member; you'll find out about exciting wildlife news, events on your doorstep and volunteering opportunities, and will be helping local wildlife along the way.