Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea)

The Arctic tern is one of the greatest travelers in the Animal Kingdom. Its lengthy migration takes it from the Arctic to Antarctica- a journey of at least 16 000 km!


This strong flier reaches a length of about 43 cm. It has a slim, streamlined body, pointed, elbowed wings, a forked tail and a spearlike bill. Its body and the rear half of its underwings are white, while the rest of its wings and its back are pale grey, except for a splash of black under the wingtips. It has a jet black cap and a bright red bill. In winter, its black cap is confined to the back of its head, while its forehead becomes white and its bill becomes dark red.


The Arctic tern has a circumpolar distribution, and its range extends into the northern temperate zones of North America and Europe. Breeding occurs throughout the Arctic and south along the Pacific coast to northern British Columbia.


In the Arctic summer, these birds build nests in shallow depressions in the ground, lined with a few flat, smooth stones, or bits of whatever vegetation they can find. Their two eggs are so well camouflaged that they are difficult to see, even from a metre away! The parents incubate their eggs for about three weeks, and the young leave the nest four weeks after they hatch.

Terns eat insects, aquatic invertebrates and small fish. While winter blankets the Arctic, terns hunt throughout the summer Antarctic pack ice for fish and plankton. They have no real home base during this season, but instead travel constantly in search of food. Because Arctic terns divide their time between the two poles, experiencing the summer midnight sun of each, these birds see more hours of daylight than any other animal!