Blue noddy (Procelsterna cerulea)

Also known as: blue ternlet, blue-gray noddy, blue-grey noddy, blue-grey ternlet, grey ternlet
GenusProcelsterna (1)
SizeLength: 25 - 28 cm (2)
Wingspan: 46 - 60 cm (2)
Weight41 - 69 g (2)

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

A small, delicate tern, the blue noddy (Procelsterna cerula) is distinctive due to its pale plumage, with an all-grey head and upperparts and even paler white-grey underparts. The upperwing is slightly darker than the rest of the body, with greyer or brown tinged coverts and blackish primaries. The short tail is shallowly forked, and the black bill is short and slender. There is usually a white ring around the eyes, and a small black spot between the eye and the bill. The legs and feet are black, with pale webs (2) (3) (4) (5). The male and female blue noddy do not differ in appearance, and juveniles are similar to the adults, but with brownish colouration on the upperparts, especially the crown (5). 

There are five recognised subspecies of the blue noddy: Procelsterna cerulean saxatilis, Procelsterna cerulea nebouxi, Procelsterna cerulea cerulean, Procelsterna cerulean teretirostris and Procelsterna cerulea murphyi (1).

The blue noddy is widely distributed in the Pacific Ocean, where it is found in American Samoa, the Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and the Hawaiian Islands (1) (4) (6). It also occurs on the east coast of Australia and on Lord Howe Island (off Australia) (3) (5).

Primarily an inhabitant of tropical oceanic islands, the blue noddy roosts and breeds mainly on inaccessible cliffs or, less often, in areas of sheltered rocky ground, beaches, or clumped or bushy vegetation. The blue noddy forages over lagoons and inshore areas, often around upwelling currents (2) (5).

With the narrowest gape of all terns (2), the blue noddy is restricted to feeding on tiny fish, squid, sea-skaters and small crustaceans. It generally forages in small groups close to the shore, flying low over the water using quick, shallow wing-beats before dipping to snatch prey from the surface. The blue noddy also often hovers close to the water, pattering its feet on the surface, when searching for prey (2) (5) (6).

The time at which breeding begins varies with location, but typically commences in September in Australia (5), from August to November in Kiritimati, and June to August in the Phoenix Islands (2). In Hawaii, the blue noddy is known to breed all year round, with a peak in egg-laying between February and March (2) (6). Usually, a single egg is laid in a roughly constructed nest, made from shreds of grass and seaweed, which has been placed on a cliff face in a crevice or hollow, or under a ledge or vegetation (2) (3) (5). The egg is incubated by the male and female adult blue noddy for around 32 days, and the chick is brooded continuously by the adults for around 2 to 3 weeks after hatching. The chick typically fledges at around 37 days old, although both adults continue to feed the juvenile by regurgitation for some time (2) (5).

Although the blue noddy is not currently threatened with extinction, several localised threats may negative impact the breeding success of this species. Predation of eggs and young may cause problems at some breeding locations, such as Lord Howe Island, and the introduction of rodents to offshore islands is a cause for concern (3). The blue noddy is limited by its cliff nesting habitat (2), especially where there is potential competition for nest sites with other species.

Intensive fishing operations around feeding grounds is thought to pose a risk to the blue noddy, possibly increasing mortality due to collisions with fishing gear, and by the removal of prey (3) (5). The development of areas close to breeding habitat may also threaten this species in future (5).

The blue noddy is listed as a Vulnerable Species on Schedule 2 of the New South Wales Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (5) (7). Recommendations for conservation of the blue noddy include preserving its existing breeding and roosting habitat and monitoring the impact of fishing operations on the population (5), as well as controlling rodent populations (3).

Further research on the habitat and ecology of the blue noddy is also required (5).

Find out more about the blue noddy and other bird species:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Department of Environment and Conservation (NSW): Threatened species - Grey ternlet (March, 2011)
  4. Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment: Samoa biodiversity - Blue-grey noddy (March, 2011)
  5. National Parks and Wildlife Service (1999) Threatened Species Information - Grey ternlet. National Parks and Wildlife Service, New South Wales. Available at:
  6. BirdLife International - Blue noddy (March, 2011)
  7. Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (March, 2011)