Sandwich Tern

Thalasseus sandvicensis
Range Map

Tern afficionados in southern California are always on the lookout for unusual species, especially during surveys in the enormous Elegant Tern colonies each spring. Looking for a black-billed tern among the thousands of orange-billed Elegant Terns is no simple task. I never saw one during any tour I took part in. Some of the more experienced biologists in my company even tried to find a hybrid Elegant-Sandwich Tern. If they ever found one, I didn’t hear about the find.

Texas doesn’t have any Elegant Terns, but they have Sandwich Terns in spades. When I visited south Texas, I discovered that both the west coast and the Gulf Coast share Royal Terns, Black Skimmers, Caspian Terns and Forster’s Terns.

Modern science recognises three subspecies of Sandwich Tern:

  • T. s. sandvicensis breeds in Europe east to the Caspian Sea, and spends winters from Caspian, Black and Mediterranean Seas to coasts of west and south Africa, and from the Red Sea to India and Sri Lanka.
  • T. s. acuflavidus breeds in eastern North America and south to the Caribbean. They spend winters south to Peru and Uruguay.
  • T. s. eurygnathus breeds on the coast of eastern North America and through Antilles to the southern Caribbean. They spend winters from the Caribbean south, to Peru and Uruguay.

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