Animal Facts

Inca Tern

Scientific Name: Larosterna inca

Fast Fact:

The Inca tern is the only member of genus Larosterna due to its peculiar plumage and head pattern.

Inca Tern

Terns are seabirds that are related to gulls and skimmers. They are medium-sized and very graceful. It is easy to differentiate them from the gulls by their somewhat smaller size and forked tails.

STATUS: The Inca tern is listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). After the advent of guano harvesting, the birds’ numbers plummeted due to loss of nesting substrate. Today, there are an estimated 150,000 left.

HABITAT: These birds live in the rocky coastline and caves of Chile and Peru. Unlike other terns, who are open ground nesters, Inca terns make their nests in rocky crevices and caves. It is thought that this nesting difference is to escape predation by peregrine falcons.

DIET: Inca terns feed on small fish, such as anchovies and squat lobsters. While these birds are not fast swimmers, they are excellent plunge divers. A tern will hover about 50 feet above the surface of the water until it spots the desired target and will dive straight down, resurfacing with a fish in its bill.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: The Inca tern is immediately recognizable by its white “mustache” feathers which frame its face and bright red-orange color of its bill and legs. The rest of the Inca tern’s body is covered in grey feathers. Although they are graceful fliers, this bird has relatively small, webbed feet and short legs which compromise its ability to propel itself well in the water. However, the bird is able to float.

Love is in the Air

Male Inca terns participate in aerial courtship displays in order to impress potential mates and will aerially pursue desired females with gifts of fish. The length of the tern's “mustache” is thought to correlate with the general body and reproductive condition of the bird.

After choosing a mate, the pair chooses a sheltered nesting site, which may be used for several years. Female terns lay one or two eggs which incubate for about four weeks. The chicks are fledge in seven weeks.

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