Royal Tern: Large tern, pale gray upperparts; white face, neck, and underparts. Head has spiky, black crest and cap, and heavy, bright orange bill. Wings are black-tipped above and black-edged below; tail is deeply forked. Legs and feet are black. Hovers before plunge diving for prey.
Range and Habitat
Royal Tern: Breeds along coast from Maryland to Texas, wandering further south in summer. Spends winters from North Carolina and California southward. Prefers saltwater habitats such as coastal areas, beaches, bays, offshore areas; rarely found inland.
Royal Terns defecate directly on the rim of their nest, perhaps to reinforce the nest against flooding. After a few weeks, the nest rim hardens.
The chicks leave the nest scrape within one day after hatching and congregate together in a group known as a crèche, which can have thousands of chicks. A pair will feed only their own chick, and manage to find it in the crowd, probably by recognizing its call.
They feed primarily on fish rather than crab, more than any other tern. The offering of fish by the male to the female is part of the courtship display.
A group of royal terns are collectively known as a "highness" of terns.