Is that a Gull-billed Tern (Australian) or an Australian Tern (Gull-bill

To: "'Geoffrey Dabb'" <>, <>
Subject: Is that a Gull-billed Tern (Australian) or an Australian Tern (Gull-billed)?
From: "Greg & Val Clancy" <>
Date: Sun, 19 Jul 2020 18:44:16 +1000

The ‘Northern’ or ‘Common’ Gull-billed Tern also occurs occasionally in NSW.  I have seen and photographed it in the Clarence Valley, north coast NSW.


Greg Clancy


From: Birding-Aus <> On Behalf Of Geoffrey Dabb
Sent: Sunday, July 19, 2020 4:32 PM
Subject: [Birding-Aus] Is that a Gull-billed Tern (Australian) or an Australian Tern (Gull-billed)?


This moderately common inhabitant of our   fields and beaches shows the problems we have with names.   First, some authorities regard it as one with a widespread northern species, some split it off as a different species, Gelochelidon macrotarsa. Gould thought it was different, ‘a fine species of Tern, which proved to be new to science’, and called it the Long-legged Tern.


If a separate species it needs a new English name (and a Spanish one, and one in Indonesian, Japanese, Chinese etc.)  IOC Worldbirdnames has given English-speakers ‘Australian Tern’, something that might come as a surprise to Australians, who learn they have their very own tern, along with China, Peru and Caspia.  ‘Our tern’, however, is shared with Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, and to a small extent, with New Zealand.

Another name, which at the moment might, by a narrow margin, be called the more usual, is ‘Australian Gull-billed Tern’.  This indicates that we have a ‘Gull-billed Tern’ which happens to be (largely) Australian. ‘Largely Australian Gull-billed Tern’, while accurate, would be too long.


The IOC people are reluctant to use ‘Australian Gull-billed Tern’ because they would then need to add an adjective (for example ‘Northern’ or ‘Common’) to the widespread northern species, long known as ‘Gull-billed Tern’.  This, on a balancing of relative convenience to those affected, they do not wish to do. There can be only one Gull-billed Tern, they say.  The objection to ‘Australian Tern’ on ground of novelty is met by the reassurance ‘People will get used to it’.  Perhaps.  Given enough time, people will get used to anything.   So much for the possibility of worldwide agreement on English names.


As it happens the REAL Gull-billed Tern also occurs on the coasts of north-western Australia, sometimes outnumbering the Australian G-b T.



Geoffrey Dabb


<BR> Birding-Aus mailing list
<BR> To change settings or unsubscribe visit:
<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU