Swift Tern

© Robert Hofmeyr


Swift Tern or Greater Crested Tern (Sterna bergii)




50 cm


The adult swift tern is large with a white forehead strip, neck, and underparts. The back and wings are dusky-grey. The sides of the face are also white and the large slightly curved bill is yellow. The legs and feet are black and the soles of the feet yellow. The sexes are alike. The immature swift tern has a yellow bill, black-and-white barred upper parts with buff-edged feathers - quite a mottled plumage.

Swift Tern Call

The call is a loud, screaming ‘kreee-kreee’.

Swift Tern Diet

The swift tern mostly eats fish by plunge-diving to a depth of up to 1 m and the food is usually swallowed in mid-air.

Swift Tern Breeding

The swift tern breeds from March - October in South Africa. The nest is a shallow scrape on the ground and typically on some open, flat area. It is sometimes lined with a little grass. There is usually 1 - 2 basic off-white, light turquoise or pale pinkish marked with brown splotches coloured eggs.

Swift Tern Status

The swift tern is of least concern and a common resident in South Africa.

Where they are found

The swift tern is common in the south Western Cape and usually found in small groups along the coast or at estuaries. They breed on Schaapen, Marcus, Dyer, Malgas, Meeuw and Robben Islands, but not on each island every year.