A large, heavy-headed white and gray tern with a black crown and thick orange bill. Underparts are entirely white in all plumages and age classes. Legs are black in adults and yellow in juveniles. Sexes are similar. Alternate Adult: Has pale gray upper wings and back, dark charcoal gray wingtips, and a short white tail with a shallow fork. Solid black cap extends from the base of the bill to the hindcrown, where there is short shaggy crest. Bright pumpkin orange bill is straight, fairly thick at the base and tapers to sharp point. Basic Adult: Similar to alternate adult, but the front two-thirds of the crown and forehead are white. Black on head doesn't quite reach the back of the eye, but slight shaggy crest still evident; area right behind the eye is a mix of mostly white and black feathers, creating a paler gray to whitish break between the black and the eye. Shows a small blackish smudge in front of the eye. Juvenile: Similar to basic adult, but shows pale rusty scalloping on back, plus a dark gray carpal bar and dark gray tips to the greater coverts. Very similar Elegant Tern is smaller, with proportionally longer thinner wings, and a bill that is much thinner at the base and is slightly down-curved near the tip. White on crown in basic adult and immature Elegants is less extensive (limited to the forward half of the crown) and the eye is surrounded by black feathering. Elegant also shows a longer, shaggier crest at all ages. Caspian Tern is slightly larger, heavier-bodied, has broader wings, and a thicker bill that is red in adults and dark orange in juveniles. Never shows a clean white forecrown.
Length: 51 (cm) Wingspan: 104 (cm)
Whistled calls and low, harsh, scratchy notes.
Beaches and coastal areas.
Breeds colonially on islands and beaches; nest is a scrape in the sand. Chicks fledge from nest within a day or two and gather together in large groups, identifying their parents by calls.
Plunge-dives into water, sometimes from great heights, to catch fish.
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