Sandwich terns on Blakeney Point

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich terns have been present on Blakeney Point for over a century with often some four thousand breeding pairs migrating here in late March and staying until mid to late August. This part of the North Norfolk coast makes up the largest breeding colony in the United Kingdom.

Blakeney Point has been famous for its breeding terns for over a century. Terns are elegant seabirds (similar to gulls, although more graceful) that migrate to West Africa for the winter. Sandwich terns are white birds with black crests on their heads and a yellow tip to their fine, black bill. They were first spotted at Sandwich in Kent which is where they acquired  their name, although sadly they no longer breed there.

Sandwich Terns are the largest and most numerous of the four species that breed on Blakeney Point and in recent years, as many as 4,000 pairs have nested on the end of the Point. 

Sandwich Terns
Sandwich Terns

Terns will generally remain at the traditional breeding sites but they can move on mass between sites so numbers of terns breeding at an individual site can vary dramatically from one year to the next. During a ‘bad’ year, many birds will not breed at all so the breeding population can also vary greatly from year to year.

Like many seabirds, terns are long-lived with some recovered ringed birds being over thirty years old. It is this long life span that means they can cut their losses and not breed in a year if the conditions are not favourable.

The terns nest close together on the shingle spit and adults can be seen diving for fish in the harbour and flying into the colony with long, silver fish; mainly Sand Eels and Whitebait.

An adult sandwich tern feeding its chick on Blakeney Point
an adult sandwich tern feeding a fish to its chick

Disturbance can cause the terns to abandon their nests so to help prevent this, the breeding areas on Blakeney Point are fenced off and a team of rangers live on the Point during the summer months to help monitor the breeding colonies and to speak to visitors about the importance of our conservation work.

The sight, sound and smell of the sandwich tern colony is an impressive spectacle and a boat trip from Morston Quay in June or July is a truly special experience. 

a group of adult and young sandwich terns sitting amongst plants

Sandwich Tern Ringing Project

As part of our conservation work on Blakeney Point we have embarked on a colour-ringing project in order to help us understand more about the movements of these special migrating birds.