Mystery Bird: Royal Tern, Sterna maxima

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[Mystery bird] Royal Tern, Sterna maxima, photographed at Quintana and Bryan Beaches, Texas. [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]
Image: Joseph Kennedy, 3 September 2008 [larger view].
Nikon D200, Kowa 883 telescope TSN-PZ camera eyepiece 1/2000s f/8.0 at 1000.0mm iso400.


Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:
Bring that recent ruffian of a Caspian Tern back up on your screen, and turn everything we said about that bird into its opposite. Here’s a slender, graceful-footed, pale-headed bird, far less threatening in every way than its larger, meaner cousin. The stout, pale-tipped bill, the short haircut, and the pale upperparts make this one another Royal Tern. Elegant Tern would have a longer, finer bill, with a much less prominent gonydeal angle and a longer crest.
This individual is a juvenile molting into first-winter plumage, still showing dark-centered tertials and a dark carpal bar.
Review all mystery birds to date.

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About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to Mystery Bird: Royal Tern, Sterna maxima

  1. Greg Laden says:

    YA Royal Tern, yes? But this one looks a little unhappy. Or maybe pessimistic. A tern for the worst, perhaps.

  2. aedis says:

    Royal tern.

  3. Greg says:

    Royal Tern, indeed

  4. JohnB says:

    Another vote for Royal Tern

  5. Tom says:

    Elegant Tern

  6. JPS says:

    I’ll say royal tern for this bird too.

  7. bobk says:

    Royal Tern (age?)
    I guess you can’t have enough field guides – this bird has both juvenile and non-breeding adult features as shown in Sibley. Juvenile: Yellowish bill, mottled coloring on the proximal wing feathers and black centers on the lower back feathers. Non-breeding: Black legs and a military style hair cut.
    Well I just bought The Shorebird Guide so I think I would prefer a free primer on how bird coloring tends to change with age. As an example, does foot and bill color change quickly or slowly, in or out of sync with the feathers and is the molt sudden or prolonged. Anyone. Anyone.

  8. bobk says:

    Oh yes, add that the juvenile in Sybley has yellow legs.