Roseate Tern
(Sterna dougallii)


Picture of bird
© Jukka Jantunen (
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

Roseate Terns, an endangered species in Canada (COSEWIC 2009g), breed almost exclusively in Nova Scotia with small, peripheral colonies extending to Quebec's Magdalene Islands. A large decline in abundance appears to have occurred since the early 1970s, and the number of occupied colonies has declined. The number of terns breeding in Canada had remained relatively stable starting in the late 1980s, when regular surveys began, but began to decline in the mid-2000s. Active management in Canada and the United States has been successful at maintaining, and in some places restoring, the abundance of Roseate Terns, but conservation challenges clearly remain. This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
COSEWIC (Canada)Endangered2009 
SARA (Canada)Endangered2003 
IUCN (Global)Least concern2018 
Partners in Flight (North America)Watch list - yellow D2017 
Wild Species (Canada)Critically imperiled2015 
State of North America’s BirdsWatch list2016 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaLarge DecreaseMediumBelow Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada100 - 500 breeding birds

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Long-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population
CanadaVery Low

Conservation and management

Predation, of both adults and young, is a significant factor limiting the productivity of Roseate Terns in Canada. Management of predators (e.g., gulls, American Crows, American Mink, Great-Horned Owls, feral pets, and foxes) continues to be of high priority for the recovery of the species (Environment Canada 2015c). Gulls can also displace terns from otherwise suitable nesting areas (Environment Canada 2010a). The Roseate Tern’s restricted distribution in Canada makes it vulnerable to localised threats such as human development, catastrophic weather events (Nisbet and Spendelow 1999, Lebreton et al. 2003), pollution, and disease. Although management efforts currently focus primarily on the core of the range (Country Island and The Brothers, Nova Scotia), expanding the availability of suitable habitat is a longer-term priority of the Recovery Plan (Environment Canada 2015c). In the United States, the northeastern population was listed as Endangered in 1987 (USFWS 1987). For information on the legal status of this species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and to view the Recovery Strategy, see the SARA Registry.


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Atlantic Northern ForestsAtlantic Northern Forests, sub-region and priority type: Quebec -- Other
Scotian ShelfScotian Shelf, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NB -- Other
Scotian ShelfScotian Shelf, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NS -- Other