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Orange-billed tern in Spain

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  • Orange-billed tern in Spain

    Would anybody (esp. from US) like to comment on the ID of an orange-billed tern seen recently in Spain?

    Video here ( shows it displaying, and it looks a size up from Sandwich Tern.

    Images here ( are poor and you will need to scroll down to see them.

    This seems to one of a run of 'odd' orange-billed terns in Spain, with video of another here ( Images of another here shows a more yellow-hued bill (

    It is hard to reconcile these birds with Lesser Crested Terns, but equally it is a big step to be categorical about their identity. I have my own feelings, but would like to hear from others with more experience.

    Brian S

  • #2
    The first bird is surely most akin to Elegant Tern. A decurved, orange bill (deepest, almost reddish, colour at base becoming yellowish at the tip) fits with this species. It would be interesting to know rump colours, etc.

    Surely birds which look exactly like Elegant Terns are just that, and those 'odd'-looking birds which don't really look like anything are the troublesome hybrids which we should be concentrating on.. or is it not that simple?

    Seems like a good time to bring up this beast from Dorset in May 2005:

    Elegants are stunning birds:
    Josh Jones


    • #3
      Hi all, seems like there could be a mix of birds roaming around Europe which might include some hybrids that could be confusing the issue. Anyone seen or photographed the adult offspring of the Northumberland Lesser-crested and also the Albufera bird?

      The rare birds spain link has some excellent photos and great to see those Lesser-crested photos that highlights bill shape differences between the two species. To my eye, the first video in Brian's link plus also some of the photos on the rarebirds spain site look good for Elegant both in bill shape/length and color. The Dorset bird (and Devon a year or so later?) also looks good for Elegant. Maybe it's the same bird touring around Europe.

      The Albufera bird on the pdf and also the one photo on rarebirds spain (with yellow ring) is more puzzling. Some photos seem to show a long, slender, drooping elegant-type bill but, in other photos, it looks shorter than you'd expect for a classic Elegant. That combined with the rather uniform yellowish bill (one would expect a stereotypical breeding Elegant to have a more carrot-colored bill in breeding plumage) makes it less easy to call.

      These terns definitely vary in bare part color. I attach a photo of a group of post-breeding Elegants. The bird front and center has a fairly yellow bill and was noticeably darker-mantled than the rest of the birds. On its own in Europe might be trickier to call although I do think the size and shape of that drooping bill would reveal its true identity. Also check out the young bird to the left of it with those bright orange legs.

      If the Albufera bird is an Elegant, then it would have to be at the smaller end in terms of bill size and shape.
      Attached Files
      Last edited by AndyB; August 24th, 2008, 12:34 AM.
      My Surfbirds Photo Albums


      • #4

        Do you think that Elegant has more leg visible above the 'knee' than Sandwich? This apparent on Royal, but I often think that they look longer-legged amongst Sandwich Tern....

        Brian S


        • #5
          Originally posted by Andy Birch
          Anyone seen or photographed the adult offspring of the Northumberland Lesser-crested.
          That bird was colour-ringed, and has never been re-sighted after its first autumn; it is very likely not to have survived, and can be discounted now


          • #6
            Yes, you're right, in mixed company these vagrant Elegants appear leggier compared to Sandwich and stand taller. The Lesser-crested photos with Sandwiches at: show a similar leg length. I never get a chance to compare the two species side by side because Sandwich is rare here.
            My Surfbirds Photo Albums


            • #7
              On the subject of hybrids , A couple of shots here of an interesting tern taken by Andy Chick at Chapel Point , Lincs a week or so ago.





              • #8
                For starters, wrong colour ring combination for the 1997 Farnes LC x Sarnie hybrid, so that can be excluded.


                • #9
                  Doesn't seem to be the ring combination of the Albufera juvenile either. Wonder how many rung nestlings of hybrid orange-billed/Sandwich birds are out there though. If the Lincs bird really is one of these hybrids, can't be that difficult to pin down its origins.

                  Stephen Welch is running a good, ongoing and comprehensive page about vagrant orange-billed terns here:
                  My Surfbirds Photo Albums


                  • #10
                    This might fit the LC x Sandwich hybrid ringed on Arguin in 2001...

                    Laurent -