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Royal Tern

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Royal Terns are downsized versions of a Caspian Tern with a few subtle distinctions. First, their bill is more orange than red and lacks the dusky tip. Second, their black cap has a shaggy crest and retreats in the off season to reveal a white forehead. And, finally, they don’t have the broad, sweeping wings of their cousin.

Royal Tern
STERNA MAXIMA
• Length: 20 inches
• Wingspan: 41 inches
• Season: Year-round
More about Royal Terns.
Where they are, and when.

Royal Terns inhabit beaches and coastal islands, often in large flocks in the company of other terns. When standing they sometimes hold their wings slightly away from their bodies as if about to take flight.

Flying along the shoreline as high as 40 to 50 feet, they survey the water for prey. When they spot small fish or shrimp, they dive in headlong to snatch them up. They’re not past harassing Brown Pelicans or other birds to steal their catch.

They nest in a scrape of sand on coastal islands. The parents defecate around the nest, creating a hardened rim. A day after hatching, the young leave the nest and assemble with the flock’s other young in a colony called a creche. Although the creche can have thousands of young, the parents still are able to find their own in the crowd for feeding.
 

About Scott Clark

I’m a digital journalist who’s worked as a photographer, reporter, producer and editor. My interest in the natural history of my surroundings reaches back to my early days beachcombing on the Jersey coast, rowing my boat on a quiet lake in Missouri and, more recently, discovering the mountains and backwoods of Montana, where I was born.

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