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Roseate Tern Identification

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The Four Keys to ID

  • Size & Shape

    A slender, delicately built seabird with a straight, thin, pointed bill, long, pointed wings, and a very long, forked tail that extends beyond the wingtips when the bird is at rest. Juveniles have shorter tails than adults.

    Relative Size

    Larger than a Least Tern, smaller than a Sandwich or Royal Tern. Similar in size to Common Tern but with a longer tail.

    Relative Sizebetween robin and crowbetween robin and crow

    • Both Sexes
      • Length: 13.0-16.1 in (33-41 cm)
      • Weight: 3.2-4.9 oz (90-140 g)

Regional Differences

Ornithologists recognize three subspecies: dougallii of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, the smaller gracilis of most of the Indian Ocean, and korustes of the Indian Ocean around southern India and Sri Lanka, in which the bill is shorter and upperparts darker gray than in gracilis. Within the dougallii subspecies, individuals that breed in the Northeast have black bills that become red at the base through June and July. In Caribbean birds, the bill is one-third to one-half orange-red for most of the year, becoming mostly orange-red during June and July.