White-winged Tern: Hunting technique

on 27th August 2008

An earlier post gives the non-breeding, breeding (above) and transitional plumages of the White-winged Tern (Chlidonias leucopterus), also known as White-winged Black Tern documented by Dr Jonathan Cheah Weng Kwong at Kranji.

This is a migratory bird that moves down the Malay Peninsula to Singapore and beyond to as far as Australia to winter.

This tern is a generalist feeder, taking aquatic as well as terrestrial insects, small fish and tadpoles. It has a number of feeding techniques: aerial feeding, hawking flying insects, hover-dipping and contact-dipping. However, it does not plunge-dive.


The images provided (above, below) show the bird indulging in contact-dipping. Flying slowly and just above the water, it looks for a fish swimming just below the water surface. Once spotted, the bird turns it head downwards and sideways and plunges its bill into the water to snatch the fish. It simply continues with its flight with the fish securely clamped in its bill.


Gochfeld, M. & Burger, J. (1996). Family Sternidae (Terns). Pp. 624-667 in: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. eds. Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 3. Hoatzin to Auks. Barcelona: Lynx Editions.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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