Sandwich Tern
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Clade: Aequorlitornithes
Order: Charadriiformes
Suborder: Lari
Family: Laridae
Subfamily: Sterninae
Genus: Thalasseus
F. Boie, 1822

T. bengalensis
T. maximus
T. bergii
T. bernsteini
T. elegans
T. sandvicensis

Thalasseus, the crested terns, is a genus of six species of seabirds in the tern family. Thalasseus signifies a "creature of the sea". It has a worldwide distribution, and many of its species are abundant and well-known birds in their ranges. This genus had originally been created by Friedrich Boie in 1822, but had been abandoned until a 2005 study confirmed the need for a separate genus for the crested terns.[1]

These large terns breed in very dense colonies on coasts and islands, and exceptionally inland on suitable large freshwater lakes close to the coast. They nest in a ground scrape.

Thalasseus terns feed by plunge-diving for fish, almost invariably from the sea. They usually dive directly, and not from the "stepped-hover" favoured by, for example, the Arctic Tern. The offering of fish by the male to the female is part of the courtship display.

These species have long thin sharp bills, usually a shade of yellow or orange except in the Sandwich Tern where the bill is black with a yellow tip in most subspecies. All species have a shaggy crest. In winter, the Thalasseus terns' foreheads become white.

List of species in taxonomic order

The genus contains eight species:[2]

Image Name Common name Distribution
120px Thalasseus maximus Royal Tern US north to Virginia, occasionally drifting north to Maryland. The southern end of their breeding range is Texas.
120px Thalasseus bergii Great Crested Tern / Greater Crested Ternfrom South Africa around the Indian Ocean to the central Pacific and Australia
120px Thalasseus bengalensis Lesser Crested Tern the Red Sea across the Indian Ocean to the western Pacific, and Australia
120px Thalasseus albididorsalis West African Crested Terncoasts of Mauritania to Guinea
120px Thalasseus bernsteini Chinese Crested Tern Fujian Province, China, and wintering south to the Philippines
120px Thalasseus sandvicensis Sandwich Tern northern Europe to Mediterranean, Black and Caspian Seas.
120px Thalasseus acuflavidus Cabot's TernNorth America to northern and eastern South America.
120px Thalasseus elegans Elegant Ternsouthern United States and Mexico and winters south to Peru, Ecuador and Chile.

An early Pliocene fossil bone fragment from the northeastern United States closely resembles a modern Royal Tern. It may be an unexpectedly early (3.7–4.8 million years before present) specimen of that species, or an ancestral member of the crested tern group.[3]


  1. ^ Bridge, Eli S.; Jones, Andrew W. & Baker, Allan J. (2005). "A phylogenetic framework for the terns (Sternini) inferred from mtDNA sequences: implications for taxonomy and plumage evolution" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 35 (2): 459–469. PMID 15804415. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2004.12.010.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  2. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2019). "Noddies, gulls, terns, auks". World Bird List Version 9.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 19 July 2019. 
  3. ^ Olson, S., Rasmussen, P.C., "Miocene and Pliocene birds from the Lee Creek Mine, North Carolina" in Ray, C. E. & Bohaska, D. J. (2001). "Geology and Paleontology of the Lee Creek Mine, North Carolina, III." Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology, 90. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C. 233–365.
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