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