Little tern

The sandy, windswept and exposed terrain of the northern tip of South Stradbroke Island is a haven for several threatened bird species. This includes the little tern (Sternula albifrons), which returns to the east and south Australian coastline each summer after wintering in tropical waters.

This small migratory seabird is found throughout the world, inhabiting coastal environments like beaches, inlets, estuaries, lakes and bays. It prefers exposed sandbanks or sand spits to roost and breed.

Roosting and breeding grounds

The little tern breeds in spring/summer (September to December) from Tasmania to South East Queensland. The South Stradbroke site at Jumpinpin is highly significant as a roosting and breeding ground for the little tern. It is the only known breeding location for them within South East Queensland and between Bundaberg in the north and Yuraygir National Park (south of Yamba) in the south.

The time of year these birds forage and breed on the island coincides with the peak period for human day trippers, boaties and tourists, creating a challenging situation.

Little terns previously bred on the Sovereign Island sandbanks and Woogoompah Island, but neither of these sites are now suitable. The birds forage widely in Moreton Bay waters and inshore coastal habitats and can often be seen in Gold Coast waterways.

Monitoring program

Between 2008 and 2013, City of Gold Coast officers, in partnership with community members, monitored the population during the summer season to find out more about this species, such as:

  • breeding success
  • how we impact them
  • how we can help them survive.

Educational patrols were also undertaken. Visitors to the area should not disturb the site and should refer to signage that outlines the bird refuge exclusion area.


The eastern Australian population of little tern (Sternula albifrons sinensis) is listed as 'special least concern' in Queensland and 'endangered' in New South Wales. It is estimated that about 3000 pairs remain, but they are at risk due to low breeding success and high levels of disturbance at coastal breeding and resting sites.


On South Stradbroke Island, the major threat is from exposure to bad weather, including flooding from rain and high tides, and sustained strong winds and associated sand movement. Other threats include dogs off their leashes, trampling of nests and other disturbance from recreational visitors, including four-wheel-drive vehicles. The little tern is also subject to predation from native and feral animals, particularly foxes, dogs and cats.