Medium-sized tern with pointy wings. Long, slender yellow to reddish orange bill, appears to droop at tip. Breeding birds have a black crest that is shaggy at the rear.
Long, orange bill droops slightly at the tip. Nonbreeding birds have a shaggy black band around the back of head.
While migrating or during the wintering season, Elegant Terns take rest on coastal mudflats, sandy beaches, or rocky shorelines.
The bill on juveniles is yellower than adults. Juveniles have a shaggy black band around the back of the head and variable amounts of dark mottling on the back and wings.
Long, drooping orange bill and shaggy black crest around the back of the head are key features. Also note dark primaries in flight.
Congregates on rocky outcrops, beaches, or pilings in the water. Note long shaggy crest at the rear of the head on nonbreeding birds.
Adult DescriptionMedium-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 DescriptionJuvenile similar to nonbreeding adult, but bill smaller and pale yellow to orange-red, back with variable amounts of dark spotting, and wingtips darker.
- Both Sexes
- Length: 15.3-16.5 in (39-42 cm)
- Weight: 6.7-11.5 oz (190-325 g)
Don't miss a thing! Join our email list
The Cornell Lab will send you updates about birds, birding, and opportunities to help bird conservation.