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Little Terns

The Little Tern (Sterna albifrons subsp sinensis) is the smallest of Australia's terns with a wingspan of only 45-55 centimetres and a total weight of 50 grammes.

The current Australian distribution of the Little Tern is from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Corner Inlet in Victoria and into north eastern Tasmania.  

The Little Tern is listed as an Endangered Species under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. 

Breeding colonies are located on beaches, sand spits and sand islands near rivers, creeks and coastal lakes. Many of them located near the mouths of estuaries.  Historically, Little Terns were recorded at 70 separate breeding colonies in NSW, but today only 15 identified sites exist in NSW, including Sawtell (Bongil Bongil National Park), Hearnes Lake and Red Rock.


Little Tern nests are a simple scrape in the ground, sometimes lined with feathers and eggshells. The highly exposed hatchlings are very susceptible to predators from both introduced and native species, as well as disturbance from human activities.

Protecting Little Terns Council and the National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) run a Recovery Programme that aims to protect and nurture Little Terns in the local area by protecting breeding areas, including areas at Hearnes Lake Beach and Sawtell.

In Spring, the breeding areas are fenced off and people are discouraged from entering the areas.

How you can help

The Recovery Programme relies on a volunteers for its success. If you would like to be part of this programme contact:

Sawtell                     Ranger Martin Smith NPWS Coffs Harbour ph 6652 0907
Hearnes Lake         Ranger David Nalder NPWS Coffs Harbour ph 6652 0928
Nambucca               Ranger Greg Wallace NPWS Coffs Harbour ph 6652 0906