Tuesday 21 May
Damara tern (Sterna balaenarum)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
Damara tern fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Damara tern description
A typical small tern in appearance, the Damara tern has a white body, pale grey back, yellowish to dusky legs and a black beak. In breeding plumage the species has a black cap, which extends onto the nape (back of the neck), but outside of the breeding season this becomes more mottled grey-black, and the forehead turns white. Juveniles have a buff crown, a dark band through the eye and across the nape, grey flight feathers, and brown wing-coverts with dark edging (2) (4). Although quite similar in appearance to the little tern, Sterna albifrons, the Damara tern can be distinguished by a longer, slightly decurved beak, which does not turn yellow during the breeding season, as well as a paler grey back, and a stockier body shape (4) (5). The call of the Damara tern is a high-pitched tsit-tsit or a harsh, rapid kid-ick (4).
- Sterne des baleiniers.
Damara tern biology
Hovering over the water before plunge-diving to catch its prey, the Damara tern feeds mainly on small fish, such as mullet and anchovy, and on small squid (2). Breeding occurs between late September and late February, but can extend to as late as May (3), with one, or rarely two, eggs being laid into a small scrape on open ground, the adult birds preferring locations that provide good visibility (4). The egg hatches after an incubation period of between 18 and 23 days, and the vulnerable chick is well camouflaged to match its surroundings, with white below and fawn above, speckled with black. The chick leaves the nest at just two days old, crouching motionless to blend in with its surroundings and so avoid detection by predators. Fledging occurs around 20 days later, but the chick is dependent on the adult birds for another two and a half months (2) (3) (4).Top
Damara tern range
The Damara tern is found in its highest densities along the Namibian coastline, where an estimated 98 percent of the population nests (6), with smaller numbers occurring in South Africa and southern Angola. At the end of the breeding season the birds disperse north, being recorded along the coastal waters of Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Ivory Coast (2) (4).Top
Damara tern habitat
The Damara tern breeds on gravel and stony plains, dunes and salt pans, up to three kilometres inland to avoid predators such as jackals that often frequent outer beaches (2). Feeding takes place in inshore waters of bays, estuaries, lagoons and salt pans, as well as in the surf zone (2) (6).Top
Damara tern status
Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).Top
Damara tern threats
The Damara tern’s feeding areas are under threat from dredging, land reclamation and hotel construction (2) (4), while its breeding sites are threatened by human disturbance, in the form of off-road vehicles, which can destroy nests, and other human activity on beaches, particularly as this often coincides with the species’ breeding season (4). One of the largest known breeding colonies, Caution Reef, south of Swakopmund in Namibia, currently suffers considerable human disturbance (4), which has been found to reduce breeding success (6). Large-scale mining operations have also caused some disturbance, affecting feeding due to sediment discharge causing increased water turbidity (3).Top
Damara tern conservation
The Damara tern is listed under Appendix II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), which aims to conserve migratory species throughout their range (7). It is also listed under the associated Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA), which calls upon parties to engage in a range of conservation actions to help protect and conserve bird species that are dependent on wetlands for at least part of their annual cycle (8). Other proposed conservation measures include protecting breeding sites from development, pollution and human disturbance, and creating ‘disturbance-free’ areas on nesting beaches (4). An example of one such successful measure is at the Damara tern’s breeding site at Caution Reef, Namibia, where the use of information boards and barriers to exclude off-road vehicles has resulted in a doubling of the number of chicks successfully hatched (6).
As a result of its habit of nesting in loose colonies in some fairly remote areas of the Namib Desert coastline, the Damara tern has proved difficult to count and study in the past (9). The global population is believed to be fairly small, but further monitoring may be needed to identify any population trends. If found to be undergoing a decline, the Damara tern may qualify for upgrading to a higher threat category on the IUCN Red List in the future (4).Top
Find out more
For more information on the conservation of migratory waterbirds, see:
African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement:
For more information on the conservation of coastal habitats and species in Namibia, see:
Namibian Coast Conservation and Management project (NACOMA):
For more information on this and other bird species please see:
- BirdLife International:
Authenticated (29/06/09) by Justine Braby, PhD Student, Animal Demography Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Cape Town.
- Small feathers concealing the bases of larger flight feathers, usually on the wings or tail.
- Flight feathers
- The feathers at the end of the wing, involved in flight.
- The act of incubating eggs; that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
- IUCN Red List (November, 2008)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- Braby, J. (2009) Pers. comm.
- BirdLife International (November, 2008)
- Newman, K. (2002) Newman’s Birds of Southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town, South Africa.
- Braby, R.J., Shapira, A. and Simmons, R.E. (2001) Successful conservation measures and new breeding records for Damara Terns Sterna balaenarum in Namibia. Marine Ornithology, 29: 81 - 84.
- Simmons, R.E., Cordes, I. and Braby, R. (1998) Latitudinal trends, population size and habitat preferences of the Damara Tern Sterna balaenarum on Namibia’s desert coast. Ibis, 140: 439 - 445.
- Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (December, 2008)
- Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (December, 2008)
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.