Under the recent reorganisation of the large and diverse order CHARADRIIFORMES, the suborder Lari (gulls and allies) includes all the various species of gull, tern, skimmer, auk and skua, as well as certain shorebird species, notably those from families Dromadidae and Glareolidae (see Shorebirds).

Family : Laridae, with 46 currently recognised extant species of tern under 11 genera.

Subfamily : Sterninae

Previously terns were grouped together with gulls, whereas they have now been separated into their own subfamilies (see below). At that time a large proportion of the terns were all listed under one large genus, Sterna. However, following recent research and analysis, the family has been re-categorised resulting in the renaming of a number of species.

There is still some uncertainty and/or disagreement as many sources will show terns in family Sternidae.

The “Taxonomy in Flux” checklist, explained under my title 'understanding bird orders and families', splits family Laridae down into five subfamily groups :-

Subfamilies :
       Anoinae (noddies)
       Gyginae (pure white terns)
       Sterninae (terns)
       Larinae (gulls) - a separate listing can be found here
       Rynchopinae (skimmers)

Whilst noting the above, I've simplified my tern list by effectively ignoring Anoinae and Gyginae thereby keeping all the species listed together as though they are all within subfamily Sterninae.

Of the 11 genera, four being Phaetusa, Gelochelidon, Hydroprogne and Larosterna are monotypic, with the other seven grouping particular types of species :-

       Anous (noddies - 5 species) (previously split, see note below)
       Gygis (pure white terns - 2 species)
       Onychoprion (brown-backed terns - 4 species)
       Sternula (little white terns - 7 species)
       Sterna (large white terns - 13 species)
       Chlidonias (marsh terns - 4 species)
       Thalasseus (crested terns - 7 species)

The Blue Noody and the Grey Noddy were formally in a separate genus Procelsterna for a while with this genus denoting smoke-grey plumaged noddies and with Anous reserved for the three dark plumaged birds.

The smallest tern species is the Least Tern and the largest the Caspian Tern

The following is a complete systematic listing at genus level with information taken from various sources.

This list is for personal reference, which is why certain species (19no) are highlighted – these being the species that I have both seen and photographed. Where possible, subspecies [ssp.] are defined for those particular birds.

  • Brown Noddy - Anous stolidus, also known as the Common Noddy [4 subspecies]
    [Indian Ocean / Seychelles : ssp.pileatus, Galapagos : ssp.galapagensis]
  • Lesser Noddy - Anous tenuirostris, [2 subspecies]
    [Indian Ocean / Seychelles : nominate race, ssp.tenuirostris]
  • Black Noddy - Anous minutus, sometimes considered a subspecies of the Lesser Noddy [7 subspecies]
  • Blue Noddy - Anous cerulea, also known as the Blue-grey Noddy [5 subspecies]
  • Grey Noddy - Anous albivitta, sometimes considered a subspecies of the Blue Noddy
  • White Tern - Gygis alba, commonly known as the Fairy Tern particularly in the Seychelles, which is rather confusing as that is also the official name of Sternula nereis. Additionally known as the Angel Tern or White Noddy [4 subspecies]
    [Seychelles : ssp.candida]
  • Little White Tern - Gygis microrhyncha, also known as the Little Fairy Tern
  • Spectacled Tern - Onychoprion lunatus, formerly Sterna lunatus, also known as the Grey-backed Tern
  • Bridled Tern - Onychoprion anaethetus, formerly Sterna anaethetus, [4 subspecies]
    [Indian Ocean / Seychelles : ssp.antarcticus]
  • Sooty Tern - Onychoprion fuscatus, formerly Sterna fuscata, [several subspecies]
    [Seychelles : ssp. nubilosus]
  • Aleutian Tern - Onychoprion aleuticus, formerly Sterna aleuticus
  • Fairy Tern - Sternula nereis, formerly Sterna nereis, not to be confused with Gygis alba [3 subspecies]
  • Damara Tern - Sternula balaenarum, formerly Sterna balaenarum
  • Little Tern - Sternula albifrons, formerly Sterna albifrons, [3 subspecies]
    [Europe, North Africa and western Asia : nominate race, ssp.albifrons]
  • Saunders’ Tern - Sternula saundersi, formerly Sterna saundersi and subspecies of albifrons
  • Least Tern - Sternula antillarum, formerly considered a subspecies of the Little Tern [3 subspecies]
  • Yellow-billed Tern - Sternula superciliaris, formerly Sterna superciliaris
  • Peruvian Tern - Sternula lorata, formerly Sterna lorata
  • Forster’s Tern - Sterna forsteri
  • Snowy-crowned Tern - Sterna trudeaui
  • Common Tern - Sterna hirundo, [4 subspecies]
    [Europe, North Africa, Asia to western Siberia and North America down to the Caribbean : nominate race, ssp.hirundo]
  • Roseate Tern - Sterna dougallii, [3 or possibly 5 subspecies]
  • White-fronted Tern - Sterna striata
  • Black-naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana, [2 subspecies]
  • South American Tern - Sterna hirundinacea
  • Antarctic Tern - Sterna vittata, [6 subspecies]
  • Kerguelen Tern - Sterna virgate, [2 subspecies]
  • Arctic Tern - Sterna paradisaea
  • River Tern - Sterna aurantia, also known as the Indian River Tern
  • Black-bellied Tern - Sterna acuticauda
  • White-cheeked Tern - Sterna repressa
  • Large-billed Tern - Phaetusa simplex
  • Gull-billed Tern - Gelochelidon nilotica, formerly Sterna nilotica
  • Caspian Tern - Hydroprogne caspia, formerly Sterna caspia
  • Inca Tern - Larosterna inca
  • Black Tern - Chlidonias niger, [2 subspecies often referred to by name]
    [Eurasian Black Tern : nominate race, ssp.niger, and North American Black Tern : ssp.surinamensis]
  • White-winged Tern - Chlidonias leucopterus, also known as the White-winged Black Tern
  • Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida, [3 subspecies]
    [Europe and Asia : nominate race, ssp.hybrida]
  • Black-fronted Tern - Chlidonias albostriatus, sometimes regarded as Sterna albostriatus
  • Lesser Crested Tern - Thalasseus bengalensis, formerly Sterna bengalensis, [3 subspecies]
  • Royal Tern - Thalasseus maximus although sometimes regarded as Sterna maxima [2 distinct subspecies]
    ['New World' : nominate race, ssp.maximus, and 'Old World' / West Africa : ssp.albididorsalis]
  • Greater Crested Tern - Thalasseus bergii, formerly Sterna bergii [5 subspecies]
    [Western Indian Ocean / Seychelles : ssp.thalassinus]
  • Chinese Crested Tern - Thalasseus bernsteini, formerly Sterna bernsteini
  • Elegant Tern - Thalasseus elegans, formerly Sterna elegans
  • Sandwich Tern - Thalasseus sandvicensis, formerly Sterna sandvicensis
  • Cabot’s Tern - Thalasseus acuflavidus, formerly regarded as a subspecies of the Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis acuflavida [2 subspecies, including the named Cayenne Tern ssp.eurygnatha]

Related information : 'understanding bird orders and families' and 'understanding taxonomy listings'

Issue : 5 (Aug.18) - (originated Dec.15)