Genus & Species : Sterna elegans
Status: Elegant Terns are common in summer and early fall along the southern California coastline. They breed in southern California and Mexico, and disperse northwards in mid summer. They are vagrants in California and Arizona away from the the coastline.
Habitat: These terns frequent salt-water estuaries, salt flats, and other areas of shallow salt water along the southern California coastline.
Notes: Elegant and Royal Terns are very similar in appearance. If they are both resting together on a sand bar, the size difference and bill can be studied. The primary ID points to look for on the Elegant Tern are a thinner bill, smaller body, slight droop at back of black crest, and on the fall and winter adult, less white on the crown. The San Diego Natural History Museum has a great web page for telling these two species apart: www.sdnhm.org/archive/research/birdatlas_draft/focus/terns.html
Best Chances: In the summer and fall, look for both Elegant and Royal Terns together at the mouth of the San Diego River, accessible from Rob Field Park. A good breeding spot in the summer are the salt works at the north end of the city of Imperial Beach.