Open Access
How to translate text using browser tools
11 December 2017 The second and third documented records of Antarctic Tern Sterna vittata in Brazil
Caio J. Carlos, Nicholas W. Daudt, Hein van Grouw, Tatiana Neves
Author Affiliations +

Antarctic Tem Sterna vittata is a medium-sized tern that breeds during the austral spring and summer (October-March) on islands in the Southern Ocean, from 37°S on the Tristan da Cunha archipelago, to 68°S on the Antarctic Peninsula. Some populations remain near their breeding grounds year-round, whereas others migrate north to waters off Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand. Vagrants have been reported as far north as Walvis Bay in Namibia, southern Australia and south-east Brazil (Burger & Gochfeld 1996, Tree & Klages 2004, Sick 1997, Favero & Rodríguez 2005, Shirihai 2008).

The species has been mentioned at least three times in Brazil. The earliest record refers to a 19th-century specimen collected by H. M. Harrison ‘at sea, 147 m. S.E. of Imbituba [Santa Catarina state], south Brazil’ in July 1882 and deposited in what is now the Natural History Museum, Tring (NHMUK; Saunders & Salvin 1896: 51). Meyer de Schauensee (1966: 108) reported the species as occurring ‘in winter to the coast of Rio de Janeiro [south-east Brazil]’. However, this was challenged by Pacheco & Parrini (1998), who argued that no evidence has ever been provided to verify this statement. Lima et al. (2004: 148) listed the species among migratory terns that occur in the state of Bahia, on the country's north-east coast, but there also seems to be no evidence for this. Here, we present new documented records and review the existing evidence for the occasional presence of Antarctic Tern in Brazil.

On 3 September 2012 at 13.00 h, NWD photographed a single tem from the F/V Maria Letícia, a pelagic longliner operating c.90 nautical miles (c.166 km) off the state of Rio Grande do Sul (c.34°07.3′S, 51°18.7′W; Fig. 1), on the continental slope >800 m depth. Other seabirds observed included albatrosses (Diomedea and Thalassarche), giant petrels Macronectes, Cape Petrels Daption capense, White-chinned Petrels Procellaria aequinoctialis, prions Pachyptila and Wilson's Storm Petrel Oceanites oceanicus.

The tern had a short, slender, uniform red bill, black cap, crown and nape contrasting sharply with a narrow, white cheek-stripe, grey back and upperwing with black on the outer edge of the outermost primary, white rump and tail, and grey chin, throat and underparts, with white undertail-coverts (Fig. 2). We identified the bird as an adult breeding-plumage Antarctic Tern, based on bill proportions and colour, and plumage pattern. This is the first record for the state of Rio Grande do Sul (cf. Bencke et al. 2010).

In the western South Atlantic, Antarctic Terns in breeding plumage are most likely to be confused with Arctic S. paradisaea and South American Terns S. hirundinacea in the same plumage. Arctic Tern is usually observed in non-breeding plumage in Brazil (Dias et al. 2012). Nevertheless, in both breeding and non-breeding plumages their outermost primaries have narrow dark tips, forming a trailing edge (Olsen & Larsson 1995, Shirihai 2008). South American Tern is larger (41–43 cm in length vs. 32–34 cm), has a longer and heavier bill, ill-defined white cheeks, and darker outer webs to the outermost primaries (Escalante 1970, Shirihai 2008).

In addition to the specimen mentioned in Saunders & Salvin (1896) as taken off Santa Catarina (NHMUK 1894.10.28.9), another (NHMUK 1923.8.8.1) was collected on 21 July 1923 by Lieutenant H. S. Tracy at ‘28°35′S, 47°20′W, off coast of S. Brazil’ (Fig. 1). Data on their labels indicate that both specimens are males. They are in juvenile plumage with crown and nape black streaked/mottled white and buff and extending below the eye, forehead white spotted black, upperparts greyish barred brown, especially on the tertials, dark carpal bar on the upperwing, and underparts white. The bills are black and the legs and feet are blackish flesh (Fig. 3). Their measurements (in mm), taken by HvG, are as follows: exposed culmen 33.1 and 33.3; tarsus 19.5 and 17.6; and wing 250 and 255. Juvenile Antarctic Terns have the throat and breast washed brown; however, partial moult of the head and body begins in March, consequently older juveniles have generally white underparts (Harrison 1991, Shirihai 2008).

Figure 1.

Records of Antarctic Tern Sterna vittata off southern Brazil: NHMUK 1894.10.28.9 (circle; Saunders & Salvin 1896), NHMUK 1923.8.8.1 (triangle; this work), and c.34°07.3′S; 51°18.7′W (square; this work).


Juvenile Antarctic and South America Terns are similar in plumage but, according to Murphy (1938), they are separable on size. However, Murphy (1938) only presented measurements of adults of the six currently accepted subspecies of Antarctic Tern. S. v. gaini of the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula, and S. v. tristanensis of Tristan da Cunha are largest, whereas S. v. georgiae of South Georgia, the South Orkney, South Sandwich and Bouvet Islands is smallest but longest-winged. The other three subspecies breed on islands in the southern Indian Ocean and New Zealand region, and are all intermediate in size (Murphy 1938, Burger & Gochfeld 1996).

Recently fledged juvenile terns are smaller than adults. For example, in Sandwich Terns Thalasseus sandvicensis on Griend, in the Dutch Wadden Sea, growth of body mass and wing length are almost complete within 100 days of hatching (Stienen & Brenninkmeijer 2002). Similarly, according to Murphy (1936: 1108), juvenile Antarctic Terns on Petermann Island, Antarctica, attain the size of adults within three months of hatching. We assume both specimens had completed their growth, since they have white underparts and were collected in July. Their measurements agree with those given by Murphy (1938) for Antarctic Terns breeding on islands in the South Atlantic and on the Antarctic Peninsula (cf. Table 1).

Figure 2.

Antarctic Tern Sterna vittata, at sea off Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil (c.34°07.3′S 51°18.7′W), 3 September 2012 (Nicholas W. Daudt)


Figure 3.

Brazilian specimens of Antarctic Tern Sterna vittata in the Natural History Museum, Tring: NHMUK 1894.10.28.9 (A) and NHMUK 1923.8.8.1 (B) (Harry Taylor, © Natural History Museum, London)


One of us (NWD) measured juvenile and adult South American Tem specimens in the Coleção de Aves Marinhas da Universidade Federal do Rio Grande—FURG, Rio Grande, Brazil (Appendix). Juvenile South American Terns, which are barred blackish brown on the upperparts and buffish brown on the breast-sides and flanks (Harrison 1991, Hogan et al. 2010), are similar in size to Antarctic Terns, but tend to have a longer bill, tarsus and wings; adults are distinctly larger. The two NHMUK specimens have biometrics outwith the lower range of values reported for South American Tern (cf. Table 2).


Measurements (in mm) of Antarctic Tern Sterna vittata subspecies from islands in the South Atlantic and the Antarctic Peninsula. (1) adults, specimens (Murphy 1938); (2) adults (sexes pooled), live birds (Tree & Klages 2004). Data = range (mean; sample size).



Measurements (in mm) of South American Tern Sterna hirundinacea specimens from southern Brazil. Data = range (mean; sample size).


All three Brazilian Antarctic Tern records were made during the austral winter. For most of the year, the oceanography off the Brazilian coast is dominated by the warm South Equatorial and Brazil Currents, resulting in waters of relatively low biological productivity (Longhurst & Pauly 1987). However, in winter strong southerly winds reach the southern Brazilian coast and, as a result, the cold, nutrient-rich Malvinas/Falkland Current advances over the continental shelf (Garcia 1997). This phenomenon causes an increase in biological productivity and a rapid influx of Antarctic and sub-Antarctic organisms, including seabirds (Murphy 1936, Palacio 1982, Carlos 2009). In the western South Atlantic, migrant Antarctic Terns occur off Argentina (Burger & Gochfeld 1996, Favero & Rodríguez 2005) and may well reach southern Brazil more regularly in the wake of intense cold weather systems.


At-sea observations by NWD were made as part of a research project by Projeto Albatroz, which is supported by Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras) via the Programa Petrobras Socioambiental and the Albatross Task Force, a BirdLife International and Save Brasil programme sponsored by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, BirdLife partner in the UK). We are grateful to Dimas Gianuca for inviting NWD to join the research cruise off south Brazil and for reading the manuscript, and to Leandro Bugoni (FURG) for permitting us to examine specimens under his care. Vinícius Reveil lea u helped prepare the map. CJC is supported by a post-doctoral fellowship from the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES), Brazil; NWD is supported by a M.Sc. scholarship from Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq), Brazil.



Bencke, G. A., Dias, R. A., Bugoni, L., Agne, C. E., Fontana, C. S., Maurício, G. N. & Machado, D. B. 2010. Revisão e atualização da lista das aves do Rio Grande do Sul, Brasil. Iheringia, Sér. Zool. 100: 519–556. Google Scholar


Burger, J. & Gochfeld, M. 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.. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. Google Scholar


Carlos, C. J. 2009. Seabird diversity in Brazil: a review. Sea Swallow 58: 17–46. Google Scholar


Dias, R. A., Agne, C. E., Barcelos-Silveira, A. & Bugoni, L. 2012. New records and a review of the distribution of the Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea Pontoppidan, 1763 (Aves: Sternidae) in Brazil. Check List 8: 563–567. Google Scholar


Escalante, R. 1970. Aves marinas del Rio de La Plata y aguas vecinas del Océano Atlántico. Barreiro y Ramos, Montevideo. Google Scholar


Favero, M. & & Rodríguez, M. P. S. 2005. Estado actual y conservación de aves pelágicas que utilizan la plataforma continental argentina como área de alimentacíon. Hornero 20: 95–110. Google Scholar


Garcia, C. A. E. 1997. Physical oceanography. Pp. 94–96 in Seelinger, U., Odebrecht, C. & Castello, J. P. (eds.) Subtropical convergence environments: the coast and sea in the southwestern Atlantic. Springer-Verlag, Berlin. Google Scholar


Harrison, P. 1991. Seabirds: an identification guide. Houghton Mifflin, Boston. Google Scholar


Hogan, R. I., Prellvitz, L. J. & Vooren, C. M. 2010. Breeding biology of South American Tern Sterna hirundinacea (Charadriiformes: Sternidae) on Deserta Island, southern Brazil. Rev. Bras. Orn. 18: 207–215. Google Scholar


Lima, P. C., Hays, H., Lima, R. C. F., Cormons, T., Cormons, G., DiCostanzo, D. & Santos, S. S. 2004. Recuperações de Sterna dougallii (Montagu, 1813) na Bahia, Brasil, entre 1995 e 2004. Ararajuba 12: 147–149. Google Scholar


Longhurst, A. R. & Pauly, D. 1987. Ecology of tropical oceans. Academic Press, San Diego. Google Scholar


Murphy, R. C. 1936. Oceanic birds of South America, vol. 2. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist., New York. Google Scholar


Murphy, R. C. 1938. Birds collected during the Whitney South Sea Expedition. XXXVII. On Pan-Antarctic terns. Amer. Mus. Novit. 977: 1–17. Google Scholar


Meyer de Schauensee, R. 1966. The species of birds of South America and their distribution. Livingston, Narberth. Google Scholar


Olsen, K. M. & Larsson, H. 1995. Terns of Europe and North America. Princeton Univ. Press. Google Scholar


Pacheco, J. F. & Parrini, R. 1998. Registros questionáveis de aves no Estado do Rio de Janeiro. I — Nonpasseres. Atualidades Orn. 81: 5. Google Scholar


Palacio, F. J. 1982. Revisión zoogeográfica marina del sur del Brasil. Bol. Inst. Ocean. 31: 69–92. Google Scholar


Saunders, H. & Salvin, O. 1896. Catalogue of birds in the British Museum , vol. 25. Trustees of the Brit. Mus., London. Google Scholar


Sick, H. 1997. Ornitologia brasileira. Ed. Nova Fronteira, Rio de Janeiro. Google Scholar


Shirihai, H. 2008. A complete guide to Antarctic wildlife: the birds and marine mammals of the Antarctic Continent and the Southern Ocean. Second edn. Bloomsbury, London. Google Scholar


Stienen, E. W. M. & Brenninkmeijer, A. 2002. Variation in growth in Sandwich Tern chicks Sterna sandvicensis and the consequences for pre- and post-fledging mortality. Ibis 144: 567–576. Google Scholar


Tree, A. J. & Klages, N. T. W. 2004. Population size, distribution and origins of Antarctic Terns Sterna vittata wintering in South Africa. Mar. Orn. 32: 55–61. Google Scholar


Appendix: List of South America Tern Sterna hirundinacea specimens examined in the Coleção de Aves da Universidade Federal do Rio Grande—FURG (CAFURG), Rio Grande, Brazil.

Juveniles—Thirteen unsexed; Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul: Lagoa do Peixe (CAFURG 137), 5/xi/1986; Praia do Cassino (CAFURG 123, 134, 142, 143, 149, 151, 154, 173, 184, 188), xi/1982, 30/vii/1982, unknown date, 19/vii/1984, winter/1984, 19/vii/1984, x–xi/1987, xi/1992, 19/viii/1984, 01/ix/1982; ‘southern Brazil’ (unregistered), unknown date; Uruguay, Rocha: La Paloma (CAFURG 111), 21/x/1986.

Adults—Four males; Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul: São José do Norte (CAFURG 402), 31/vii/2000; Praia do Cassino (CAFURG 040, 144, 150), 17/vi/1983,17/vi/1983,17/vi/1983; eight unsexed; Brazil, Espírito Santo: Vila Velha (CAFURG 147), vii/1984; Rio Grande do Sul: Praia do Cassino (CAFURG 140, 145, 152, 153, 181, 187, 458), 13/iv/1984, 27/vi/1982, 05/vii/1982, 28/ix/1987, 19/vii/1984, unknown date, 28/ix/2000.

© 2017 The Authors; Journal compilation © 2017 British Ornithologists' Club
Caio J. Carlos, Nicholas W. Daudt, Hein van Grouw, and Tatiana Neves "The second and third documented records of Antarctic Tern Sterna vittata in Brazil," Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 137(4), 320-324, (11 December 2017).
Received: 20 August 2017; Published: 11 December 2017
Back to Top