Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


The Department of Conservation is excited to see a white-fronted tern colony of 100 pairs nesting on the remains of the historic Tokomaru Bay Wharf.

Date:  26 November 2013

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is excited to see a white-fronted tern colony of 100 pairs nesting on the remains of the historic Tokomaru Bay Wharf.  

“It is rare to see a colony of white-fronted tern on the East Coast, so DOC wants to ensure their protection,” says Conservation Partnership Manager, Awhina White.

“It's great to see most of the birds are safe from predators, people, and dogs—nesting in the hardwood beams of the original wharf,” says Ms White.

White-fronted terns. Photo: Jamie Quirk.

“However, there are 20 pairs nesting on beams that are more vulnerable to interference.

“As they often make their nests close to places people use, we are asking that they be left alone.”

‘Do not disturb’ signs have been erected at the site and DOC staff will be checking on the birds.

White-fronted tern take 50 days to fledge their young once hatched and it appears that the birds will be present on the wharf through to mid January next year.

White-fronted terns are native sea birds measuring 42 cm in length weighing 160 gm. Pair bonds are retained from one season to the next and they start breeding at two years of age and live about 18 years. The New Zealand population has declined markedly over the last 40 years and is currently regarded as threatened.

The public are reminded for wildlife emergencies to contact the DOC 24 hour emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).

White-fronted tern. Photo: Jamie Quirk.

Background information:

  • The white-fronted tern is the most common tern on the New Zealand coastline, at times occurring in flocks of many hundreds or even thousands of birds. It is mainly a marine species that is seldom found far from the coast.
  • The name white-fronted refers to the ‘frons’ or forehead, where a thin strip of white separates the black cap from the black bill.
  • They occasionally forage up larger Canterbury rivers, but are seldom found far from the coast.
  • They nest in dense colonies which provide little protection against predation by introduced mammalian predators such as stoats, ferrets, cats and rats.
  • They often nest adjacent to red-billed gull colonies and some gulls, especially males, specialise in preying on the eggs and chicks of terns.
  • Breeding occurs mainly on the coast and outlying islands, Stewart, Chatham and Auckland islands, and off northeast Tasmania at Flinders and Cape Barren Islands.
  • Most of the terns remain in New Zealand during the winter, but in autumn some white-fronted terns, mostly immature disperse to south-eastern Australia. These wintering terns are frequently seen on the coasts of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.


Sandra Groves, Department of Conservation, East Coast
Ph: +64 6 869 0460

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