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Merlin Bird ID

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    Arctic Tern

    Silhouette TernsTerns

    Arctic Tern

    Sterna paradisaea
    • ORDER: Charadriiformes
    • FAMILY: Laridae
    Basic Description

    A small, slender gray-and-white bird with angular wings, the Arctic Tern is well known for its long yearly migration. It travels from its Arctic breeding grounds to Antarctica where it enjoys the Antarctic summer, covering around 25,000 miles. Breeding birds sport a full black cap, short red legs, and a red bill. Arctic Terns are social birds, foraging in groups and nesting on the ground in colonies. They often rest on ice and fly on graceful and buoyant wings.

    More ID Info
    image of range map for Arctic TernRange map provided by Birds of North AmericaExplore Maps

    Find This Bird

    Migration is the best time to go looking for an Arctic Tern, unless you have plans to visit their arctic breeding grounds or their Antarctic wintering grounds. They start leaving the wintering grounds in March, so you can expect to see them in coastal North America starting in late April with greater numbers passing through in May. They tend stay out to sea during migration, so consider joining a pelagic birding trip or whale watching trip as they can be challenging to spot from shore. Smaller numbers also breed along the north Atlantic shore, from New England north—a good region to check during the summer where they are easier to see from shore.

    Other Names
    • Charrán Ártico (Spanish)
    • Sterne arctique (French)
    • Cool Facts