Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

Lesser Crested Tern (Thalasseus bengalensis)


French: Sterne voyageuse German: Rüppellseeschwalbe Spanish: Charrán bengalí

Sterna bengalensis


, 1831,

coasts of India


Genetic data suggest may be sister to T. maximus#R, more specifically to the West African subspecies T. m. albididorsalis#R. Previously thought close to T. elegans and T. sandvicensis, and perhaps T. bernsteini. Often treated as monotypic. Races based on subtle variation in plumage tone of upperparts and on size, but much overlap and intergradation, as well as intermediate populations, and distributions confused. Race emigratus may be synonymous with torresii, although this is biogeographically illogical. Mediterranean and Red Sea birds sometimes classified together as race par, but indistinguishable from nominate. Earlier specific name media allegedly invalid, as preoccupied; but this is disputed#R. Three subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • T. b. emigratus (Neumann, 1934) – Libya, with scattered, irregular breeding in S Europe; most winter along W African coasts.
  • T. b. bengalensis (Lesson, 1831) – Red Sea, and coasts and islands of NW Indian Ocean (mainly Pakistan, Laccadives and Maldives); winters S to S Africa, Madagascar and Sri Lanka.
  • T. b. torresii Gould, 1843 – Sulawesi to New Guinea and N Australia; in winter extends into N Indian and SW Pacific Oceans.
  • Also breeds (possibly emigratus) in Persian Gulf.

    Descriptive notes

    35–43 cm; 185–242 g; wingspan 88–105 cm. Cap and crest black; upperparts uniform grey; bill orange to orange-yellow with yellow distal area, and slight... read more


    Reportedly similar to Greater Crested Tern T. bergii and Sandwich Tern T. sandvicensis... read more


    Tropical and subtropical coasts. Often associates with Greater Crested Tern T. bergii... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mainly fish and shrimps. Feeds mostly on herrings (Clupeidae) in Sri Lanka, extensively on prawns in Pakistan. Quarters c. 5 m above water... read more


    May–June in Persian Gulf; July–August in Libya; Aug in Somalia; in Australia, breeds September–December in E, March... read more


    Inadequately known but only partly migratory in most of range. Some Middle East birds may range... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). World population c. 225,000 pairs, more than half in Australia; c. 10,000 pairs in S Pacific; 8000 in Indonesia; 10,000 in E Africa;... read more

    Recommended citation

    Gochfeld, M., Burger, J., Kirwan, G.M. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2020). Lesser Crested Tern (Thalasseus bengalensis). 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 26 February 2020).