It is the smallest of five species of tern breeding around the UK coastline weighing no more than 55g - roughly half the weight of a blackbird.
Like other seabirds they are long lived - but particularly so for their size. The longevity record for a little tern recovered in the UK is 21 years, 10 months and 11 days when an adult bird was caught by a ringer on the Farne Islands in 2014.
The little tern is one of the UK's rarest seabirds with an estimated population of only 1400 - 1500 pairs.
All terns have white foreheads in winter but only the little tern has a white forehead in summer - hence its latin name sternula albifrons which derives from albus meaning white and frons meaning brow.
Little terns do not breed until they are at least two years old, spending their first summer in their West African wintering grounds.
Little terns, as with all the terns that breed in the UK, have forked tails and this, together with their aerial acrobatics, gave them their old name of ‘sea swallows’.
Little tern breeding colonies are widely, but patchily, distributed around our coastline with East Anglia, and Norfolk in particular, being an important stronghold.
Unlike the other terns found in the UK, and due to their preference for mainland beaches, little terns often nest by themselves in single-species colonies - but they may associate with other ground-nesting birds such as ringed plovers.
To maintain their numbers, little terns need to produce a five-year average of 0.67 chicks per pair. Most UK colonies have failed to reach this productivity target and are declining.
They are fast and strong flyers and mature adults will have travelled more than 100,000 km between the UK and Africa during their lifespan.
The little tern (and the rarer roseate tern) are listed on Schedule 1 of the UK Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 which makes it an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb them while nesting.
The elaborate courtship of little terns, more than in other terns, involves the male carrying a fish - both in aerial and ground displays. Females seem to respond to long, shiny fish which the males advertise by shaking them from side to side.