Bird’s ID – Royal Tern

Royal Tern

The Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus) is a tern in the family Laridae.

This bird has two distinctive subspecies: T. m. maximus which lives on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the North and South America, and the slightly smaller T. m. albididorsalis which lives on the coast of West Africa. The royal tern has a red-orange bill and a black cap during the breeding season, but in the winter the cap becomes patchy. The royal tern is found in Europe, Africa, the Americas, and the Caribbean Islands. The royal tern lives on the coast and is only found near saltwater. They tend to feed near the shore, close to the beach or in backwater bays. The royal tern’s conservation status is listed as of least concern.

This is a large tern, second only to Caspian tern but is unlikely to be confused with the carrot-billed giant, which has extensive dark underwing patches. The royal tern has an orange-red bill, pale gray upperparts, and white underparts. Its legs are black. In winter, the black cap becomes patchy. Juvenile royal terns are similar to non-breeding adults. Differences include juveniles having black splotched wings and a yellower bill. An adult royal tern has an average wingspan of 130 cm (51 in), for both sexes, but their wingspan can range from 125–135 cm (49–53 in). The royal tern’s length ranges from 45–50 cm (18–20 in) and their average weight is anywhere from 350–450 g (12–16 oz).

The calls of the royal tern are usually short, clear shrills. Some of the shrills sound like kree or tsirr; the royal tern also has a more plover like a whistle that is longer, rolling and is more melodious.

In various parts of its range, the royal tern could be confused with the elegant tern, lesser crested tern (the other orange-billed terns), and the greater crested tern. It is paler above than lesser crested tern and the yellow-billed great crested tern. The elegant tern has a longer more curved bill and shows more white on the forehead in winter.

The royal tern typically feeds in small secluded bodies of water such as estuaries, mangroves, and lagoons. Also, but less frequently, the royal terns will hunt for fish in open water, typically within about (110 yards) off the shore. The royal tern feeds in salt water and on very rare occasions in freshwater. When feeding they fly long distances from the colony to forage. The royal tern feeds by diving into the water from heights near 30 feet. They usually feed alone or in groups of two or three, but on occasion, they feed in large groups when hunting large schools of fish.

Photo Gallery

© HJ Ruiz – Avian101

15 thoughts on “Bird’s ID – Royal Tern

  1. You are so fortunate to see these wonderful birds ! These photos are fantastic and I saw some Blackheaded Gulls mixed in.

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