General Description

A large tern with angular wings and a deeply forked tail. The bill is yellow and the top part curves downwards. The body and wings are grey above and white below. The wingtips can appear darker. The neck and parts of the head are white. Crested Terns have a shaggy black crest and a black cap. The black cap recedes towards the back of the head after each breeding season, leaving the crown mottled grey and the face white. Bill to tail length is up to 48 cm.


Crested Terns eat small fish, and occasionally squid and prawns. They search for prey by flying about 10 metres above the water looking downwards. When they sight prey, they dive head-first into the water to catch it. Crested Terns breed in colonies on the coast, choosing sites with level ground above the high tide line. The nest is a simple depression in the sand. Usually just one egg is laid. It is pointed at the smaller end and this may help prevent it rolling out of the nest. In south-eastern Australia, these terns breed from September to January. Within each colony, the timing of nest building, laying and hatching is highly synchronised.


Coastal mainland Australia and Tasmania.


Coastal areas including bays and inlets and wetlands, also lakes and large rivers.

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