- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Laridae
The Elegant Tern is a sleek seabird with a stiletto-like orange bill, a shaggy black crest, and a blush of rose-pink to the underside during the breeding season. It nests in just a few colonies in California and in Mexico, the biggest being tiny Isla Rasa in the Gulf of California. Elegant Terns flutter above the ocean on their long, pale wings, and then plunge into the water to catch small fish, particularly anchovies. After breeding, Elegant Terns disperse far and wide in search of plentiful anchovy stocks.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Elegant Terns can be hard to find during the breeding season, since most breed in Mexico's Gulf of California. They're much easier to find during spring and fall along the California coast, where they feed just past the surf line in the Pacific Ocean as well as in protected ocean waters such as San Diego Bay, Morro Bay, Monterey Bay, and San Francisco Bay. Listen for their rolling karr-eek calls, similar to those of the larger Royal Tern but shorter and higher in pitch.
- Charrán elegante (Spanish)
- Sterne élégante (French)
- Cool Facts
- More than 90% of all Elegant Terns nest in a single colony on Isla Rasa in the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez), Mexico.
- The Elegant Tern’s fates are closely tied to those of its main source of food—the northern anchovy. When anchovies are abundant, the terns have high breeding success, and vice versa when anchovies are scarce. The distribution and abundance of these small fish, in turn, is heavily influenced by oceanographic conditions such as El Niño.
- The Elegant Tern is quite rare away from its range in the eastern North Pacific, but it has been recorded along Atlantic shores in recent years, even nesting in Spain and France on rare occasions!
- 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.
- The oldest recorded Elegant Tern was at least 20 years, 11 months old when it was found in California in 2010, the same state where it had been banded in 1989.