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Elegant Tern Sterna elegans


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Elegant Tern fishing at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, California, USA
credit: Regular Daddy/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Laridae, Gulls and Terns view all from this family

Description ADULT SUMMER Has pale gray upperparts, black, crested crown and whitish underparts, palest on head and neck. In flight, upper surface of outer primaries is dark; from below, wingtips have dark margins. ADULT WINTER Similar, but forecrown becomes speckled white. JUVENILE Similar to winter adult, but upperparts are darker overall, particularly on flight feathers, and speckled brown on back, wing coverts, and upper tail.

Dimensions Length: 16-17" (41-43 cm)

Habitat Entire world breeding population restricted to just five sites on islands in Gulf of California and on south Californian coast; U.S. population is therefore of global significance. Feeds in shallow seas. Disperses along the coast outside breeding season and winters on Pacific coasts of Central and South America.

Observation Tips Easy to see at Bolsa Chica, southern California, mainly Apr-Jul.

Range California, Northwest

Voice Utters a harsh kree-err call.

Discussion Similar to Royal, but separable (especially if seen side-by-side) by smaller size, more slender bill, shorter legs, and markedly more shaggy crest. Flight is buoyant and graceful. Sexes are similar.