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Royal Tern

Silhouette TernsTerns
Royal TernThalasseus maximus
  • ORDER: Charadriiformes
  • FAMILY: Laridae

Basic Description

A sleek seabird of warm saltwater coasts, the Royal Tern lives up to its regal name with a tangerine-colored bill and ragged, ink-black crest against crisp white plumage. Royal Terns fly gracefully and slowly along coastlines, diving for small fish, which they capture with a swift strike of their daggerlike bills. They are social birds, gathering between fishing expeditions on undisturbed beaches and nesting in dense, boisterous colonies. In late summer and fall, Royal Terns lose most of their black crest and sport a white forehead.

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

Royal Terns are often among the first birds a visitor sees at the seashore, along with species such as Laughing Gulls and Brown Pelicans. Listening for the distinctive call (ka-rreet!) is a good way to locate this species. Among the many species of terns at North American beaches, Royal Terns are among the largest, outsized only by the Caspian Tern.

Other Names

  • Charrán Real Americano (Spanish)
  • Sterne royale (French)
  • Cool Facts