Royal tern


Royal Tern, Thalasseus maximus, over the Indian River Lagoon near the Ernest Lyons Bridge that runs between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island.

The royal tern typically feeds in small secluded bodies of water such as estuaries, mangroves, and lagoons. Also, but less frequently, the royal terns will hunt for fish in open water, typically within about 100 metres (110 yards) off the shore. The royal tern feeds in salt water and on very rare occasions in fresh water.


The genus name is from Ancient Greek Thalasseus, “fisherman”, from thalassa, “sea”. The specific maximus is Latin for ‘”greatest”.


This one appeared to be scanning for fish but I did not see it dive.

Their pointy orange bills are distinctive and in breeding season, in late spring, they have a complete black cap with some jaunty feathers sticking up on top.



Common along tropical and subtropical shores, the Royal Tern is a characteristic sight along the Gulf Coast and southern Atlantic Coast, less numerous in California. Aside from a few interior localities in Florida, it is almost never found inland except after hurricanes.

They eat fish and crustaceans like crabs and shrimp.

Forages mostly by hovering over water and plunging to catch prey just below surface. Sometimes flies low, skimming water with bill; occasionally catches flying fish in the air, or dips to water’s surface to pick up floating refuse. May steal food from other birds. Sometimes feeds at night.

Range map from Audubon.

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