Little Bird, Big Threats: Why is This Rare Seabird Declining in the UK?

Conservationists in the UK are very worried about a small seabird. The largest breeding colony in the UK of little terns has drastically dropped to nearly half in only one year. And bird conservationists are scrambling to figure out why.

Photo Credit: Dan Pancamo

Photo Credit: Dan Pancamo

A Difficult Year for Little Terns

In 2014, there were 300 pairs of little terns in the colony. Today, there are only 190 pairs in the colony, which currently reside in Sea Palling reports the BBC. Keep in mind that the number of pairs has dropped despite conservation efforts in the UK. As you’d imagine, conservationists in the UK, like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), are “extremely concerned” regarding this latest blow in protecting little terns.

So why have the pairs of little terns dropped in the UK?

There’s not one definitive answer. But conservationists believe that the problem is in Africa. Little terns are migratory seabirds that spend part of their time in West Africa. During that 3,000-mile journey between the UK and West Africa, the RSPB claims that “the numbers returning to the UK have declined by between 30-50% since last year,” reports the BBC.

Fabienne Fossez, the little tern warden for RSPB East Norfolk, tells the BBC that 2016 has been a challenging year for this declining seabird. While resolving the issue is thousands of miles away, Fossez has her suspicions: “What we don’t know is what goes on out in West Africa in the winter but it is something to do with the climate, weather and food.” Despite this difficult year for the little terns, there’s still some reasons to celebrate: 380 chicks have hatched since May.

Photo Credit: Andy Morffew

Photo Credit: Andy Morffew

That’s not to say that little terns in the UK are completely safe.

Sadly, the little terns have big threats. Some of their biggest threats include: predators, habitat disturbance from humans, habitat loss from things like agricultural expansion, contamination of habitat, marine debris, egg collecting, and disease such as avian influenza.

Officials in the UK have erected electric fences that protect the birds from predators like foxes. But in Wales, the birds were recently put at risk by ”callous thieves” who stole a battery and energizer from an electric fence, leaving vulnerable chicks at risk.

Photo Credit: Stefan Berndtsson

Photo Credit: Stefan Berndtsson

Take Action!

If you care about the future of little terns in the UK, sign and share this petition urging bird conservationists to continue protecting these rare seabirds and to further investigate their decline in West Africa.

Photo Credit: patrickkavanagh


George L
George Labout a year ago


Philippa Powers
Philippa Powersabout a year ago

Let's hope these little terns make a big comeback!

Anne H.
Anne Habout a year ago

Would be nice to get a follow up on this article

Sandra Vito
Sandra Vabout a year ago


Nathan D.
Nathan D1 years ago

Already signed. Don't forget, these birds have to feed and rest on their migrations and many birds are deliberately caught in netting to provide food for someone's table. The markets are filled with them.

Angela K.
Angela K1 years ago

petition signed & shared

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Sarah Jane S.
Past Member 1 years ago

I hope the government takes action

Peter P.
Peter P1 years ago


John W.
John W1 years ago