Inca Tern

Larostern inca

A distinctive mustache makes this tern stand out.

Inca terns sport long facial feathers, which sets them apart from other terns and their close cousins, the gulls. Healthier birds usually have the longest mustaches. The white mustache, as well as the red beak and legs, don’t fully develop until the bird is 1-2 years old.

Their dapper colors led to a unique nickname. 

In the country of Chile, the Inca tern is called “moña”, meaning “nun”. This name comes from the bird’s black color and sweeping white mustache, which resemble the clothing of a nun.

A salty sneeze keeps these birds balanced.

Spending much of their time flying and feeding over the ocean, Inca terns take in a lot of salt. Too much salt can harm the tern. Glands inside their nostrils push out extra salt, keeping terns healthy.


Animal Facts

  • Range Found along the west coast of South America, from Ecuador to Peru and Chile.
  • Habitat As a seabird, they are found on near-shore waters and rocky coastlines.
  • Diet These carnivorous birds mostly eat fish and crustaceans such as crabs. They will also scavenge leftovers from other animals. At the Zoo, they enjoy fresh fish and pelleted bird food.
  • Size Inca terns are 16 inches from head to tip of tail. Their wingspan is about 31 inches, and they typically weigh around 7 ounces—about the same weight as a hamster!
  • Location in Zoo Tropical Rainforest
  • Conservation Status Inca terns are classified as Near Threatened. Their wild population is decreasing due to impacts to their ocean food chain.

Did You Know?

Inca terns breed in colonies and nest inside burrows. They may dig their own burrows, but also use burrows dug by other animals.