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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Royal Tern

Thalasseus maximus ORDER: CHARADRIIFORMES FAMILY: LARIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A large, orange-billed tern, the Royal Tern is found only along ocean beaches.

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Appearance

Gull-like
Gull-like
Typical Voice

Adult Description

  • Large tern.
  • Slender orange bill (from yellow to reddish).
  • Short, forked tail.
  • Black in a narrow, shaggy band around back of head; forehead white. (Complete black cap held only briefly during breeding.)
  • Mostly white all over, with some dark in wingtips.

Immature Description

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

Range Map Help

Royal Tern Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult breeding

    Royal Tern

    Adult breeding
    • © William L. Newton / CLO
  • Adult nonbreeding

    Royal Tern

    Adult nonbreeding
    • © William L. Newton / CLO

Similar Species

  • Larger and more robust than most other terns.
  • Pointed orange bill and black cap distinguishes it from gulls.
  • 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.
  • Elegant Tern is smaller, has a shaggier crest, and a more yellowish bill, or reddish with yellow tip.