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Royal Tern


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A large, orange-billed tern, the Royal Tern is found only along ocean beaches.

At a GlanceHelp

Both Sexes
17.7–19.7 in
45–50 cm
49.2–53.1 in
125–135 cm
12.3–15.9 oz
350–450 g
Other Names
  • Sterne royale (French)
  • Charrán real, Gaviota real, Gaviotin real, Golondrina-marina real, Golondrina Tirra canalera, Pagaza real (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The Royal Tern makes its nest scrape on the ground on low-lying islands. The pair defecates directly on the nest rim, perhaps to reinforce the nest against flooding. After a few weeks, the nest rim hardens.
  • Young Royal Terns leave the nest scrape within one day after hatching and congregate together in a group known as a creche. Eventually all of the chicks in a colony come to the creche, which can have thousands of chicks ranging in age from two to 35 days old. A pair of Royal Terns will feed only their own chick, and manage to find it in the crowd, probably by recognizing its call.
  • The oldest recorded Royal tern was at least 30 years, 6 months old when it was found in Belize in 2013. It had been banded in North Carolina in 1983.





Fish and shrimp.


Nesting Facts
Egg Description
Whitish to brown, heavily spotted around large end.
Condition at Hatching
Eyes open. Covered with down and able to leave nest within one day.
Nest Description

A scrape in ground. Nesting colonies occur on island beaches.

Nest Placement



Aerial Dive

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


status via IUCN

Least Concern

Royal Tern populations appear to be stable. However, there have been significant declines in Florida, where populations fell by 96% between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The North American Waterbird Conservation Plan estimates a continental breeding population of 100,000-150,000 birds, rates the species a 12 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and lists it as a Species of Moderate Concern. Royal Tern is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List.


Range Map Help

Royal Tern Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings


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