Rare sea bird visits Farne Islands for first time since 1966

A Sooty Tern
Published : 10 Jul 2018

A rare seabird is being billed as a World Cup lucky omen today after being spotted for the first time since 1966 – just as England’s footballers bid to repeat the nation’s heroics of that same year.

The sooty tern, usually only found in the tropical seas of the Seychelles, was spotted by National Trust rangers 3,500 miles from home just days before the nation's semi-final showdown with Croatia.

The bird - coined "Gareth" in tribute to England manager Southgate - was seen on the remote Farne Islands off Northumberland where the conservation charity monitors over 90,000 pairs of nesting sea birds including four species of tern, puffins, razorbills, gulls and guillemots.  

Birds are attracted to the islands due to the good sources of food, lack of ground predators and the availability of suitable nesting areas.  The islands also offer a safe stopover point for migratory birds.

Although a common sight in the South Atlantic and on tropical islands across the equator the sooty tern is rarely spotted in the UK, with just 26 confirmed sitings in the British Isles with the last recorded siting off the coast of North Wales in 2005.

The global population is around 21 million, and breeding colonies can be as large as one million. 

The bird is characterised by its black back and head, and white patch over its bill. Species of tern more commonly found in Europe such as arctic and little terns have pale grey and white features.

It is best known for its distinctive high pitched, screeching call. In Hawaiian the bird is known as ʻewa ʻewa which roughly translates into "cacophony”. 

Like other species of terns, the sooty tern is migratory and spends the majority of its life at sea, only coming ashore for breeding season between April and September. 

Since they don’t float the sooty tern catches up on their sleep while flying, taking 1-2 second naps. 

Gwen Potter, Countryside Manager for the National Trust Northumberland Coast said: “More at home in the Seychelles than Seahouses the sooty tern made itself at home, flying around, calling and roosting among the colonies of Arctic terns and Kittiwakes that live on the island. 

“The very first siting of a sooty tern on the islands was 21 June 1966.  We hope this return visit this year is a good omen for the England team.”