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Species Guide
A photo of a Lesser Crested Tern (Thalasseus bengalensis)
Lesser Crested Tern

Lesser Crested Tern

Thalasseus bengalensis

The Lesser Crested Tern, Thalasseus bengalensis, is a medium-large tern with a graceful profile and an affinity for coastal environments. It is a member of the family Laridae, a group known for their aerial acrobatics and seaside presence.

Identification Tips

Adults in summer plumage sport a sleek black cap and black legs, complemented by a long, sharp orange bill. Their upperwings, rump, and central tail feathers are a pale grey, while the underparts remain a crisp white. As the seasons turn, the winter brings a white forehead to these terns. Juveniles can be recognized by their yellow-orange bill and a paler overall appearance with only faint dark crescents on the mantle feathers.


These terns favor subtropical coastal regions for breeding, often selecting sites on coasts and islands that provide ample food sources and nesting grounds.


The Lesser Crested Tern has a widespread presence, breeding from the Red Sea across the Indian Ocean to the western Pacific, and Australia. Notably, a significant population resides on the southern coast of the Mediterranean. While Australian birds tend to be sedentary, others migrate to winter in regions as far south as South Africa.


This species is known for its dense breeding colonies, a strategy for predator avoidance. Courtship involves the male presenting fish to the female, a ritual that strengthens pair bonds. They are plunge-divers, adept at capturing fish from saline waters.

Song & Calls

The call of the Lesser Crested Tern is a distinctive loud grating noise, akin to that of the Sandwich Tern, serving as a means of communication among the bustling colonies.


Nesting in ground scrapes, these terns lay one to two eggs, occasionally three. Their breeding behavior mirrors that of the Sandwich Tern, with dense colonies and timing that evades the breeding season of predatory gulls.

Similar Species

The Lesser Crested Tern can be confused with the Sandwich, Elegant, and Chinese Crested Terns. However, it can be distinguished in flight by its grey rump and in bill shape and coloration. The Royal and Greater Crested Terns also have orange bills but are larger with stouter bills.

Diet and Feeding

Their diet consists primarily of fish, which they catch with precision by plunge-diving, a testament to their adaptation to life at sea.

Conservation Status

The Lesser Crested Tern is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. It is protected under the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) and is included in the Mediterranean marine birds Action Plan. In India, it is safeguarded within the PM Sayeed Marine Birds Conservation Reserve.

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