Feeding almost entirely on fish (2), the fairy tern hunts on the wing, hovering three to ten metres above the sea surface, before plunging steeply into the water, emerging again seconds later. In addition to fish, crustaceans, plant material and snails have also been found in the stomach of this tern (3).
Whilst the fairy tern breeds in colonies in Australia, some of which can be fairly large (3), in New Zealand breeding pairs generally nest alone, with gaps of up to several kilometres between nests (5). Usually one to two eggs are laid each season (2), except in the event of a lost clutch, in which case pairs generally re-nest (5). Both sexes share incubation duties, and, after hatching, care of the chicks (3). After fledging, the young remain with the parent birds for several months, during which time they learn to fish for themselves (5).
The migratory habits of the fairy tern are poorly understood, with some populations migrating over winter, such as in Tasmania, whilst others appear to remain in the same area year round (3).