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Royal Tern Sterna maxima


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Royal Tern, breeding plumage
credit: Dick Daniels/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Laridae, Gulls and Terns view all from this family

Description ADULT SUMMER Pale gray above and whitish below, palest on head and neck. Has a black cap and, in flight, note dark upper surface to outer primaries and dark-edged wingtips seen from below. ADULT WINTER Similar, but shows only remnant of dark cap on nape. JUVENILE AND 1ST-WINTER Similar to winter adult, but with dark spots on back, upper wings, and upper tail, and yellowish legs and bill.

Dimensions Length: 18-21" (46-53 cm)

Habitat Very locally common on Atlantic and Gulf coasts and present year-round as far north as North Carolina; summer breeding range extends north to New England. Nests on islands and feeds in shallow seas. Disperses outside breeding season and many birds winter south of our region.

Observation Tips Easy to see on coasts. Congregates and mixes with other terns where feeding is good.

Range New England, Florida, Mid-Atlantic, Texas, California, Southeast

Voice Utters a coarse, low-pitched kree-eh.

Discussion Large, robust tern with buoyant, direct flight. Plunge-dives after fish. Bill is stout and orange and legs are black and long. Tail is deeply forked. Sexes are similar.