Royal Tern

Thalasseus maximus

Image of a group of Royal Terns on the beach.

Image by Nicholas Atamas on Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 2.5.

Physical: Royal terns are large seabirds with a striking appearance. They measure about 18 to 20 inches (45 to 50 cm) in length with a wingspan of approximately 41 to 43 inches (104 to 109 cm). These terns sport a sleek white body, contrasting with a black cap on their head during the breeding season, which becomes patchy or incomplete in non-breeding months. Their long, sharp bill is bright orange-red, and their legs are black.

Habitat: Found along coastlines, royal terns frequent sandy beaches, salt marshes, estuaries, and lagoons. While they breed in North America, they migrate south to Central and South America’s warmer coasts during the winter months.

Feeding: Their diet primarily consists of small fish, which they catch by performing impressive aerial dives into the water. Occasionally, they might also feed on shrimp and other small marine invertebrates.

Breeding: Royal terns nest in large, dense colonies on sandy or gravelly beaches and barrier islands. Nests are simple scrapes in the ground, sometimes lined with bits of shell or vegetation. Both parents take turns incubating a single egg and later, feeding the chick. Once hatched, chicks congregate in groups known as “crèches,” overseen by a few adults while others go out to fish.

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