• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer
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.

2014 festivalSponsored Ad
Learn more about BirdSleuth

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
15.4–16.5 in
39–42 cm
Wingspan
42.1 in
107 cm
Weight
6.7–11.5 oz
190–325 g
Other Names
  • Sterne élégante (French)
  • Charrán elegante, Golondrina-marina elegante (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Approximately 90-97% of all Elegant Terns nest in one colony on Isla Rasa in the Gulf of California, Mexico.
  • The Elegant Tern was first found nesting in the United States in 1959 in San Diego Bay, California. Since the 1980s, several more colonies have been established in California.

Habitat


Shore-line

Coastal waters, occasionally ocean far from land. Breeds on low, flat, sandy islands.

Food


Fish

Small fish. Some invertebrates.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–2 eggs
Condition at Hatching
Downy, eyes open, able to walk but stays in nest.
Nest Placement

Ground

Behavior


Aerial Dive

Flies over water with bill pointing down; plunges into water to catch fish.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Near Threatened

More widespread and abundant in southern Gulf of California in the past; now nests mostly on one island, Isla Rasa, Mexico. Rapidly expanding population in California. Present limited distribution, and annual fluctuations at some colonies, are due at least in part to deleterious effects of humans and feral animals.

Credits

  • Burness, G. P., K. Lefevre, and C. T. Collins. 1999. Elegant Tern (Sterna elegans). In The Birds of North America, No. 404 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Range Map Help

Elegant Tern Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings