Arctic Tern

Among the most nomadic birds on the planet, these sun-loving tourists summer twice a year during their ambitious routes

Antarctic Peninsula

Name: Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea)

Length: 25 to 40 cm.

Weight: 85 to 125g.

Location: Travel from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back again.

Conservation status: Least Concern.

Diet: Fish, crustaceans.

Appearance: Grey and white with a black “cap” on their heads, a red bill.

How do Arctic Terns feed?

Artic Terns fish by dive-bombing the water.

Are Arctic Terns social?

Arctic Terns live in large colonies. They have a number of social calls, including calls for self-identification.

How fast do Arctic Terns fly?

Arctic Terns fly at about 35 to 40 km per hour.

What are Arctic Tern mating rituals like?

Arctic Terns become sexually mature around 3 years old, nesting once every 3 years. They mate for life, and return to the same colony every year.

The courtship ritual begins with the female chasing a male up into the air – this is referred to as the “high flight” – with the pair slowly descending back down to the land after. Next the males bring gifts of fish, hunting in what is called the “fish flight.” If this goes well the courtship moves to the ground and involves strutting and posturing with the wings held open.

Paired up, the duo will build a nest together in a small bowl or depression in the ground. The male will continue to fish for the female. The female will lay 1 to 3 eggs (2 on average). Artic Terns are fiercely defensive of their nests, attacking invaders (including humans) by pecking at their heads. In fact they’re so ferocious that other species of bird will take advantage of the Terns’ protective cover by building their own nests nearby. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs. The eggs hatch after 3 or 4 weeks. The parents continue to bring fish, slowly increasing the size of the food so the chick learns to feed itself on bigger prey. After about a month the chicks, now known as “fledglings,” begin to learn to dive-fish on their own.

How long do Arctic Terns live?

Arctic Terns live on average 20 to 30 years.

How many Arctic Terns are there today?

There are over 1,000,000 Arctic Terns in the world today.

Do Arctic Terns have any natural predators?

Eggs, chicks, and adult Terns nesting on the ground are vulnerable to Foxes, Cats, and other seabirds like the Skua.

7 Attractive Arctic Tern Facts

  • Because of their migratory patterns Arctic Terns get to see 2 summers every year. They see more daylight than any other animals in the world.
  • Arctic Terns have  one of the longest known migration routes of all animals. Terns that nest in the Netherlands can travel over 90,000km in a year.
  • Arctic Terns will travel an estimated 2,400,000 km in their lifetimes. That’s a trip to the Moon 3 times over.
  • Right before a colony of Arctic Terns take flight en masse they will grow silent. This moment of quiet is referred to as “dread.”
  • Arctic Terns don not spend the whole route of their migration flying by flapping their wings – instead they glide a great amount of the distances. In fact, they’re such good gliders that they can sleep while gliding.
  • Artic Terns are one of the only birds aside from the Hummingbird that can hover.
  • Arctic Terns don’t take straight routes from the North Pole to the South and back again. They will detour long distances to find better feeding grounds or to avoid bad weather.  

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