Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Near Threatened

Elegant Tern (Thalasseus elegans)


French: Sterne élégante German: Schmuckseeschwalbe Spanish: Charrán elegante

Sterna elegans


, 1849,

Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico


Genetic data suggest that this species may be sister to T. sandvicensis#R. Previously thought to be closely related also to T. bengalensis and perhaps T. bernsteini. Monotypic.


Pacific coast of North America, breeding from S California to C Baja California (mainly to Rasa I). Post-breeding dispersal N to Oregon; winter range mainly from Mexico (Nayarit) S to Chile.

Descriptive notes

39–43 cm; 217–300 g (breeding), 186–246 g (winter, Peru); wingspan 76–81 cm. Typical crested tern with black cap and long crest, white body, and grey... read more


Scratchy "rreeah" and "krreeh" calls and grating "ehrrk" calls are given incessantly by breeding... read more


Sandy beaches and low-lying islands along coasts and estuaries. Migrants feed in harbours,... read more

Food and feeding

Principally forages on small schooling fish, very rarely taking crustaceans. The major prey species come from five fish families:... read more


Relatively few studies are available. Laying occurs between early April and mid June, peaking in mid April or early May. Nesting is in... read more


Post-breeding dispersal northward to N California and rarely to British Columbia. Uncommon migrant... read more

Status and conservation

Not globally threatened. Currently considered Near Threatened. The global population in 2003–2005 was estimated at 270,000 individuals, the nesting population then... read more

Recommended citation

Gochfeld, M., Burger, J., de Juana, E. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2020). Elegant Tern (Thalasseus elegans). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 25 February 2020).