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Temperature fluctuations and depletions of fish from human over-harvesting have caused a decline in the Inca tern population. read more >

Inca tern

Scientific name: Larosterna inca

ORDER: Charadriiformes
FAMILY: Sternidae

STATS: Weight: 6-7.5 ounces, Body Length:16-22 inches

The Inca tern is a slender bird with slate-colored plumage. The top of its head and tail are nearly black. It has a very characteristic moustache-like white feather stripe that curls back and downwards from its beak to its neck. Its legs and bill are bright red, and it has a small featherless yellow skin patch near the base of the bill.

Northern Peru to central Chile.

Rocky coasts, sandy beaches backed by cliffs, and guano (fecal) islands.

Large flocks of 100 plus birds will follow fishing fleets to feed on bi-catch (fish caught but not desired by the fishing industry) and fish scraps. This tern feeds by plunge diving into the water for fish close to the surface. It will also scavenge fish scraps left by sea lions and other predatory birds.

This tern nests on rocky sea cliffs and guano islands. Two eggs are generally laid from April to July and October to December. Nests are usually well hidden in crevices or tunnels. This species is placed in its own genus since it is unlike other terns.

Chicks start flying at four weeks and stay close to the nest for another four weeks. During this time, they practice foraging techniques.

Periodic El Niño events have caused the Inca tern to disperse throughout a larger area thus creating breeding failure. Seabirds and the fish on which they depend are adapted for these fluctuations. Populations generally recover quickly.

Prey to sea lions. Predator to small fish, specifically anchovies.

WILD DIET: anchovies and plankton

Listed as Near Threatened by IUCN in 2004. Temperature fluctuations and depletions of fish from human over-harvesting have caused a decline in the species.


  • The Inca tern does not migrate. However, some non-breeding animals will move opportunistically to find food.
  • It feeds along the cold Humboldt Current and will scavenge scraps from sea lions and fishing boats.


  1. IUCN Red List  June 5, 2008
  2. del Hoyo, Josep et all. Handbook of the Birds of the World, Volume Lynx Edicion 1996.


Published: July 2008

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