Elegant Tern Life History


Habitat ShorelinesCoastal waters, occasionally ocean far from land. Breeds on low, flat, sandy islands.Back to top


Food FishSmall fish. Some invertebrates.Back to top


Nest Placement

Nest Ground

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:1-2 eggs
Condition at Hatching:Downy, eyes open, able to walk but stays in nest.
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Behavior Aerial Dive (water)Flies over water with bill pointing down; plunges into water to catch fish.Back to top


Conservation Restricted RangeThere is little information on Elegant Tern population trends. The North American Waterbird Conservation Plan estimates 34,000-60,000 breeding birds on the continent, and lists it as a Species of Moderate Concern. Elegant Tern rates a 16 out of 20 on the Conservation Concern Score, and is on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List, which includes bird species that are most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats. The species is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. Elegant Tern appear to be more widespread and abundant in southern Gulf of California than in the past. The species now nests mostly on one island, Isla Rasa, Mexico. Its limited distribution, and annual fluctuations at some colonies, are due at least in part to deleterious effects of humans and feral animals.Back to top


Burness, Gary P., Kara Lefevre and Charles T. Collins. (1999). Elegant Tern (Thalasseus elegans), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Kushlan, J. A., M. J. Steinkamp, K. C. Parsons, J. Capp, M. A. Cruz, M. Coulter, I. Davidson, L. Dickson, N. Edelson, R. Elliott, R. M. Erwin, S. Hatch, S. Kress, R. Milko, S. Miller, K. Mills, R. Paul, R. Phillips, J. E. Saliva, W. Sydeman, J. Trapp, J. Wheeler and K. Wohl (2002). Waterbird conservation for the Americas: The North American waterbird conservation plan, version 1. Washington, DC, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

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