Sterna bengalensis (*)
Sterna bengalensis Lesson, 1831
Traite d'Ornithologie livr.8 p.621
The Lesser Crested Tern (Thalasseus bengalensis, syn. Sterna bengalensis - see Bridge et al., 2005) is a seabird of the tern family Sternidae. It breeds in subtropical coastal parts of the world mainly from the Red Sea across the Indian Ocean to the western Pacific, and Australia, with a significant population on the southern coast of the Mediterranean on two islands off the Libyan coast. Accidental breeding has also been reported in Italy and France. The Australian birds are probably sedentary, but other populations are migratory, wintering south to South Africa.
This bird has a number of geographical subspecies, differing mainly in size and minor plumage details:
* T. b. emigrata: breeding in the Mediterranean on islands off the coast of Libya, wintering West Africa. Pale grey above (only marginally darker than Sandwich Tern); slightly larger.
The Mediterranean race is a rare vagrant to Europe, and has bred in pure or mixed pairs (with Sandwich Tern) in Italy, Spain and England.
This species breeds in dense colonies on coasts and islands. It nests in a ground scrape and lays one to two (rarely three) eggs. Nesting behaviour is very similar to that of Sandwich Terns, with predator avoidance by nesting in very dense colonies, and also (in race emigrata at least) by nesting in the late summer when predatory Yellow-legged Gulls have finished breeding and departed from the nesting area.
Like all Thalasseus terns, Lesser Crested Tern feeds by plunge-diving for fish, usually from saline environments. It usually dives directly, and not from the "stepped-hover" favoured by Arctic Tern. The offering of fish by the male to the female is part of the courtship display.
The grey rump is a useful flight identification feature distinguishing it from the related species. The Elegant Tern also differs in a slightly longer, slenderer bill, while Chinese Crested Tern differs in a black tip to the bill and Sandwich Tern a black bill with a yellow tip.
Juvenile Lesser Crested Terns resemble same-age Sandwich Terns, but with a yellow-orange bill, and paler overall, with only faint dark crescents on the mantle feathers.
There are two other orange-billed terns within the range of this species, Royal Tern and Greater Crested Tern. Both are much larger and stouter-billed; Royal also has a white rump and tail, while Crested (which shares the grey rump) is darker overall above and has a yellower bill. See also Orange-billed tern.
T. bengalensis is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies, and one of 10 marine bird species listed in Mediterranean marine birds Action Plan http://www.rac-spa.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=97&Itemid=154.
* Azafzaf, H., Etayeb, K. & Hamza, A. 2006: Report on the census of Lesser Crested Tern Sterna bengalensis in the Eastern coast of Libya. (1–7 August 2006). Unpublished report to Regional Activities Centre/Special Protected Areas (MAP/UNEP), Environment General Agency (Libya) and African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (UNEP/AEWA). 18 pp with map and four Appendices.
1. ^ BirdLife International (2004). Sterna bengalensis. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
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