Living Bird Magazine
Arctic TernSterna paradisaea
- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Laridae
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
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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.
- Charrán Ártico (Spanish)
- Sterne arctique (French)
- Cool Facts
- Arctic Terns migrate from pole to pole; birds in North America travel around 25,000 miles each year.
- Downy Arctic Tern hatchlings come in two colors: gray or brown. And chicks from the same nest aren't always the same color.
- Arctic Terns can live for decades, but they usually do not start breeding until they are 3 or 4 years old.
- The oldest recorded Arctic Tern was at least 34 years old, when it was recaptured and rereleased during a banding operation in Maine.
- When molting its wing feathers during the winter, the Arctic Tern rarely flies; instead it spends much of its time resting on small blocks of ice at the edge of the pack ice.