Black noddy (Anous minutus)

Also known as: lesser noddy, sooty noddy, white-capped noddy
French: Noddi noir
GenusAnous (1)
SizeLength: 35 - 39 cm (2)
Wingspan: 66 - 72 cm (2)
Weight98 - 144 g (2)

The black noddy is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A medium-sized tropical tern with a dark, slender, pointed bill, the black noddy (Anous minutus) has sooty black plumage with a starkly contrasting clean, white head cap that gradually blends into the dark neck (2) (3) (4) (5). With a colouration that is the reverse of most terns, which are typically white with a black cap, the black noddy also has a white crescent on the lower eyelid and there is a white spot on the upper rim. The male and female black noddy are much alike, but the juvenile bird has greyish feathers on the upperside of the wings (2) (3) (4). An elegant seabird that is most graceful in flight, the black noddy has long, tapering wings, a wedge-shaped tail, and short, black legs with fully-webbed feet (3) (6). 

The origin of the slightly unusual name, noddy, is uncertain, but it may be derived from their breeding displays in which both birds nod at each other, or perhaps because sailors once called them “noddies”, which means 'simpletons', as they are easily caught by hand when nesting (3) (4). In addition, the genus name Anous means ‘unmindful’ in Greek and refers to the birds’ tolerance of humans (3).

A widespread seabird with a worldwide distribution across tropical and subtropical waters, the black noddy occurs in the western and central Pacific Ocean, with scattered populations in the Caribbean, central and eastern Atlantic and northeast Indian Ocean (4) (7).

The black noddy inhabits oceanic and coastal islands, ranging from low, sandy atolls to high, rocky islands. Outside of the breeding season the black noddy typically remains close to nesting islands, although it may occasionally travel across open sea to other islands (3) (7).

A proficient predator of fish, the black noddy flies low over the water and seizes its prey at the surface while remaining airborne, or by splashing its bill into the water, without fully submerging. Foraging during the day in large flocks, it depends on predatory fish, such as tuna, to drive its prey towards the water surface where it can reach it without diving (3) (4). 

As with the other noddies, the black noddy is unusual in being one of few species in the Laridae family that nests in trees or shrubs, with most other species being ground-nesters, although it does also nest on ledges of cliffs and sea caves. The black noddy typically nests in colonies, with the nest being a shallow cup made of vegetation, such as seaweed, moss and dead leaves. A single egg is laid and, unlike most seabirds, the black noddy may produce two clutches in a single breeding season. The egg is incubated for 30 to 37 days, with the chick fed on regurgitated fish and fledging at approximately 48 to 60 days, although it may remain with the adult birds for several weeks afterwards. The black noddy is a relatively long-lived species and does not reach sexual maturity until it is several years old (3) (4).

While the global population of the black noddy currently appears to be stable, with the species’ breeding range and population even expanding on islands around the Great Barrier Reef (7), many populations are in decline or have been lost altogether due to a combination of hunting and habitat loss (3). On many South Pacific Islands, seabirds have long been an important part of peoples’ diet and the black noddy is still heavily harvested in the North Marshall Islands and at Fakaofo in Tokelau, where 1,000 black noddies are consumed each year. Elsewhere, egg collection may have destroyed a breeding colony off Belize, while seabird collection is a continuing problem on Los Roques Island off Venezuela and in Indonesia. The destruction of the black noddy’s breeding habitat is also a big problem in many regions, with nesting trees and shrubs often cleared to make room for cultivation, livestock grazing and developments. On many South Pacific Islands, vegetation is often cleared for coconut palm plantations, while in the Caribbean the cutting of mangroves for charcoal burning threatens the species. Furthermore, grazing by introduced goats and human activities on St. Helena has restricted the black noddy to nesting on offshore stacks and inaccessible cliffs. The black noddy is potentially also vulnerable to contamination from oil spills, agricultural runoff, and oceanic dumping of waste (3).

Conservation of the black noddy has generally centred on the protection of its breeding sites and has been met with variable success thus far. Most populations on the Hawaiian Islands are well protected with populations monitored, habitat protected, human disturbance managed and introduced species controlled. Elsewhere in the Pacific there have been few efforts to protect populations and where laws are in place to restrict or prohibit the hunting of birds or collection of eggs, enforcement is often challenging or inadequate (3).

For more information on the black noddy and other bird species, see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2010)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Gauger, V.H. (1999). Black noddy (Anous minutus). In: Poole, A. (Ed.) The Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
  4. Contreras-González, A.M., Rodríguez-Flores, C., Soberanes-González, C. and Arizmendi, M.C. (2010) Black noddy (Anous minutus). In: Schulenberg, T.S. (Ed.) Neotropical Birds Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
  5. U.S. Geological Survey – Black noddy (November, 2010)
  6. Perrins, C. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  7. BirdLife International (October, 2010)