Many demographic studies on long-lived seabirds have focused on the estimation of adult survival, but much less is known about survival during the early years of life, especially in tropical species. We report analyses of a capture-recapture dataset of 685 roseate terns ringed as fledglings and adults between 1998 and 2005 on Aride Island, Seychelles, and recaptured/resighted at the same colony site over a 5 yr (2002 to 2006) period. A multistate model was used to estimate survival for different age classes, including juvenile (first-year) birds returning as non-breeding prospectors. The effect of infestation by parasites (ticks) on survival was also examined. Overall, the estimated return of first-year individuals to the natal colony was very variable, ranging from 2 to 22%. Conditioned on survival, the probability of returning from Age 2 yr onwards increased to 70%. Survival rates were best modeled as time-specific, with estimates varying from 0.02 to 1.00 (mean 0.69) in first-year birds with a marked negative effect of tick infestation. In older birds (minimum age of 2 yr), the annual estimates fell between 0.69 and 0.86 (mean 0.77). Using a components of variance approach for estimation of year-to-year variation, we found high temporal variability for first-year individuals (coefficient of variation [CV] = 65 %) compared to much less variation in the survival rate of older birds (CV = 9 %). These findings agree with the life-history prediction that demographic rates of juveniles are usually lower and more variable than those of older individuals. Our results are also consistent with the predicted negative effect of tick parasitism on juvenile survival. Compared with data from other roseate tern populations, survival over the first 2 yr (Age 0 to 2 yr) was 18 to 40 % higher in this study, suggesting that a high 'young' survival rate may be an important demographic trait in this tropical population to compensate for the low annual reproductive success. Our data show that estimating survival of young individuals may be crucial to elucidating the demographic tactics of seabirds.