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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Elegant Tern

Thalasseus elegans ORDER: CHARADRIIFORMES FAMILY: LARIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Near Threatened

A medium-sized tern with a shaggy crest and a long, slightly drooping orange bill, the Elegant Tern is seen along the Pacific Coast. After nesting in very southern California and Mexico, it wanders northward to northern California, or even to British Columbia.

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Appearance

Gull-like
Gull-like
Typical Voice

Adult Description

Medium-sized tern. Long, slender yellow to reddish orange bill, appears to droop at tip. Short, forked tail. Complete black cap while breeding. Black in narrow, shaggy band around back of head; forehead white in winter. Mostly white all over, with some dark in wingtips. Underparts often with pink blush.

Immature Description

Juvenile similar to nonbreeding adult, but bill smaller and pale yellow to orange-red, back with variable amounts of dark spotting, and wingtips darker.

Range Map Help

Elegant Tern Range Map
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Field MarksHelp

  • Adults, breeding plumage

    Elegant Tern

    Adults, breeding plumage
    • © 2004 Cornell Lab of Ornithology, California, April 2000
  • Adult nonbreeding

    Elegant Tern

    Adult nonbreeding
    • © 2004 Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Orange County, California

Similar Species

  • Caspian Tern larger and more robust, with broader wings, thicker and more blunt bright red bill, short, square tail only shallowly notched, a black or streaked forehead at all times, and lacks a shaggy crest.
  • Royal Tern larger, has a shorter crest, a more robust reddish bill, and keeps its dark breeding cap for only a short time.
  • Sandwich Tern similar in shape, but has black bill with yellow tip.