Royal Tern

Thalasseus maximus




Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Code 4


Code 6



Breeding Type:

Monogamous, Colonial

Egg Color:

Creamy buff to brown with red brown markings

Number of Eggs:

1 - 4

Incubation Days:

20 - 31

Egg Incubator:

Both sexes

Nest Location:

On ground.

Nest Material:

Lined with grass.





Royal Tern: Large tern with pale gray upperparts and white face, neck, and underparts. Head has spiky, black crest and cap, and heavy, bright orange bill. Wings are black-tipped above and black-edged below; tail is deeply forked. Legs and feet are black. Sexes are similar. Winter adult has white forehead and darker primaries. Juvenile resembles winter adult but lacks distinct crest, has gray-and-white mottled upperparts, darker wings and tail, yellow bill, legs and feet.

Range and Habitat

Royal Tern: Breeds along coastlines from New Jersey to Florida, along the Gulf Coast to southern Mexico, and in the West Indies. It also occurs from northern California south. Spends winters from North Carolina and California southward. Prefers saltwater habitats such as coastal areas, beaches, bays, offshore areas; rarely found inland.

Breeding and Nesting

Royal Tern: One to four creamy buff to brown eggs with red brown markings are laid in a depression in sand or a cup of dead grass, usually built on a sandy or rocky island. Incubation ranges from 20 to 31 days and is carried out by both parents.

Foraging and Feeding

Royal Tern: Feeds on small fish and aquatic invertebrates, including crabs, squid, and shrimp. Plunge dives to capture prey; occasionally pirates fish from other birds, especially Brown Pelicans.


Royal Tern: Gives harsh "kee-rare", similar to Caspian Tern but higher pitched.

Similar Species

Royal Tern: Caspian Tern has a thicker, red bill, dark wedge on outer portion of underwings, weaker forked tail, and near-complete cap in winter and juvenile plumages.


Belly, undertail coverts, chest, flanks, and foreneck.

Back, rump, hindneck, wings, and crown.
The area on top of the head of the bird.
Tufts of feathers on the head of the bird.
The front part of the head consisting of the bill, eyes, cheeks and chin.
The primaries are the flight feathers specialized for flight. They are attached to the "hand" equivalent part of the wing.
Parts of a Standing bird X
Head Feathers and Markings X
Parts of a Flying bird X