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The Fairy Tern is one of Australia’s smallest and rarest seabirds. These small, coastal seabirds measure less than 250 mm from their bill- to tail-tip, and in peak breeding condition, they feature a dark black head cap, bright orange bill and legs.

Fairy Terns can often be seen nesting and raising fledglings on sandy beaches, shallow continental islands and near estuary mouths during the summer months. Their nest consists of a shallow scrape in the sand, enhanced by small shells and stones, which helps to camouflage eggs and chicks. Their diet consists, almost exclusively, of small bait fishes such as sprat, anchovies, and garfish, which are captured by plunge diving.

The exposed nesting sites preferred by the birds can make them vulnerable to vehicles, foot traffic, pets, and feral animals. In recent times, a loss of breeding habitat combined with intensive human-induced activity has resulted in recurrent breeding failure. It is currently estimated that there are fewer than 3,000 pairs of Fairy Terns in WA.

About the project

About the project

Launched in 2013 by Citizen Science Coordinator Dr Nic Dunlop, the South West Fairy Tern Project supports members of the community to protect the threatened Australian Fairy Tern Sternula nereis nereis

In 2016, the Western Australian Fairy Tern Network was established to facilitate a wholistic approach to conservation. The Network provides a platform for communication and the coordination of conservation actions among researchers, land and wildlife managers, non-government organisations and citizen-scientists.

A guide to Fairy Tern (Sternula nereis nereis) Conservation in South-Western Australia has been developed to support community groups and land managers in their pursuit to deliver improved outcomes for Fairy Terns. The guide takes a holistic perspective to conservation and focuses on the process of finding solutions at a variety of locations and on different spatial scales. The guide was compiled by Dr Dunlop, assisted by contributions from members of the Western Australian Fairy Tern Network. The publishing of the second edition in 2018 was supported by the Northern Agricultural Catchment Council.

The WA Fairy Tern Network has more than 400 members actively involved in observing the movement, distribution and breeding biology of the birds. The ‘Fairy Tern Conservation Group Facebook page provides a platform to report sightings of banded birds, movements, breeding and general field observations.


Fairy Tern (Sternula Nereis) Conservation in South-Western Australia

Fairy Tern Conservation Strategy Mid West Coast

Fairy Tern Conservation Strategy Abrolhos

Fairy Tern Conservation Strategy South West Coast


This project was supported by funding from the WA State Natural Resource Management Program (NRM).

The field research underpinning this guide was supported by the grant of various authorities and in-kind contributions from the Department of Parks & Wildlife (WA) and the Department of Fisheries (WA).

In 2016, Fremantle Ports provided financial support to improve network communication and the coordination of research and conservation activities, by developing a social media platform and to establish a database for the citizen science project.

The Northern Agricultural Catchment Council (NACC) supported some of the work in the Houtman Abrolhos. Many citizen scientists have assisted along the way and we are extremely grateful for their contributions.

Peter Mortimer, Unique Earth, Donna Chapman, Tegan Douglas and Claire Greenwell have kindly granted permission for the use of their photographs.