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Elegant Tern

Silhouette TernsTerns
Elegant TernThalasseus elegans
  • ORDER: Charadriiformes
  • FAMILY: Laridae

Basic Description

The Elegant Tern is a sleek seabird with a stiletto-like orange bill, a shaggy black crest, and a blush of rose-pink to the underside during the breeding season. It nests in just a few colonies in California and in Mexico, the biggest being tiny Isla Rasa in the Gulf of California. Elegant Terns flutter above the ocean on their long, pale wings, and then plunge into the water to catch small fish, particularly anchovies. After breeding, Elegant Terns disperse far and wide in search of plentiful anchovy stocks.

More ID Info
image of range map for Elegant Tern
Range map provided by Birds of the World
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Find This Bird

Elegant Terns can be hard to find during the breeding season, since most breed in Mexico's Gulf of California. They're much easier to find during spring and fall along the California coast, where they feed just past the surf line in the Pacific Ocean as well as in protected ocean waters such as San Diego Bay, Morro Bay, Monterey Bay, and San Francisco Bay. Listen for their rolling karr-eek calls, similar to those of the larger Royal Tern but shorter and higher in pitch.

Other Names

  • Charrán Elegante (Spanish)
  • Sterne élégante (French)
  • Cool Facts