The elegant terns are back. For the past couple of weeks I’ve spotted them resting in the Monterey Harbor and feeding in the waters off Fisherman’s Wharf #2 and Del Monte Beach. They’re migrants, visiting us after nesting in Southern California and Mexico. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, approximately 90-97% of all elegant terns nest in one colony on Isla Rasa in the Gulf of California — a seabird sanctuary since 1964. (Heermann’s gulls breed there, too, and are also back in the Monterey area.)
Elegant terns (Thalasseus elegans) are fairly easy to find. Just zero in on the midair squeeky-gate-hinge sound. It’s a medium-sized tern with a yellow-orange bill, short forked tail, and a full black cap (during breeding season). Right now, the forehead is more whitish and the cap looks like a slipping black toupee.