Sooty Tern | Maui Ocean Center

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Sooty Tern

The sooty tern has an impressive ability to stay in flight for years, gliding across the sea before landing at breeding colonies. Their sleek black bodies are offset by a striking flash of white on their forehead, breast, belly, and even the underside of their wings.  Highly social creatures, sooty terns form massive colonies on remote islands.


While not strictly nocturnal, they are most active at dawn and dusk.

Feeding and Habitat

While they spend most of their time soaring across the ocean, they do gather on remote islands in massive, dense colonies to breed. (This number can sometimes be in the millions.) Their nests are simple, shallow scrapes on the sandy ground, sometimes decorated with shells or bits of vegetation. 


Sooty terns are masters at snatching prey mid-flight, largely due to their sharp beaks. Their agile bodies allow for swift dives, changes in direction, and skimming the water’s surface, giving them the best chance at catching squid, mackerel scad, and even flying fish. 



Conservation Efforts

Historically, competition for prey due to overfishing has reduced available food sources for the sooty tern. Marine debris and oil spills pose a constant threat in the ocean and native and non-native predators like rats, cats, ants, and herons pose risks on land.


Conservation efforts to combat these challenges include protecting and enhancing nesting habitats to ensure safe breeding grounds, eradicating non-native predators allowing chicks a higher chance of survival, and advocating for sustainable fishing practices to reduce competition for food sources. Improved marine debris cleanup and public education are always top of the list for sooty terns and other species.

hawaiian Name


Scientific Name

Onychoprion Fuscatus


Least Concern



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