Heinz Plenge Pardo

Inca Tern

Larosterna Inca

This is a very social bird that lives in large colonies; it feeds mainly on anchovies.

NPA: Paracas National Reserve (Important Bird Area).

Endemic: From the Humboldt Current.


It is dark grey, with a coral-red beak and feet. Its head is black, and under its eye it has a white “moustache” that extends towards the rear part of its head. This moustache usually curves downwards. Under its moustache it has a sort of “lip” of an intense yellow hue. It has a long tail and wings and a long, white band can be observed on its wing. Juveniles are light grey, with blackish feet and beaks.

Length: 40-43 cm / 16-17 in.

Threat: Vulnerable.

Best Time for observation: All year round.

Habitat: In rocky areas near the coast.

Endemic species of the Humboldt current found on the coast of Peru.

The Inca Tern - A Peruvian Masterpiece

Many wildlife enthusiasts visiting Peru have near the top of their lists as a must-see creature - the Inca Tern. Why not! Its name and its snazzy plumage make it a sexy target for birdwatchers and fortunately it is very easy to see. It is the most bizarre member of its family and is placed in its own monotypic genus. It has a striking plumage and bright red bill and legs. The most distinctive feature of this species are its prominent white moustaches which, starting at the base of the bill, are quite long and curl down around the cheek. The Inca Tern occurs the length of the Peruvian Coast. It is quite common in inshore waters where it forages for small anchovy fish. They are most easily found along rocky coasts where they breed on sea cliffs and guano islands. Almost all international flights arrive in Lima and it is an easy day out south of Lima to see this species close up on its nesting cliffs in Pucusana bay or on a boat trip around the San Lorenzo Islands out of Lima’s port of Callao. If heading south to the Paracas National Reserve the regular boat trips to the Ballestas Islands will get you close and intimate with hundreds of this charismatic bird.

Inca Terns are very flexible and successful in using any kind of coverage (natural or artificial) for nesting. They can nest inside abandoned buildings and huts on guano islands, and in any pile of wood and metal slabs. The presence of rats and cats on some islands can also prevent nesting or reduce breeding success.

You can even see this snazzy bird whilst sipping a sundowner at one of Lima’s fine restaurants along the Costa Verde in the Miraflores district.

Text by Barry Walker.