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Arctic Tern


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A small, slender white bird, the Arctic Tern is well known for its long yearly migration. Its travel from its Arctic breeding grounds to its wintering grounds off of Antarctica may cover perhaps 40,000 km (25,000 mi), and is the farthest yearly journey of any bird.

At a GlanceHelp

Both Sexes
11–15.4 in
28–39 cm
25.6–29.5 in
65–75 cm
3.2–4.2 oz
90–120 g
Other Names
  • Sterne arctique (French)
  • Charrán ártico, Gaviotín del Artico (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • When molting its wing feathers during the winter, the Arctic Tern rarely flies, instead speading much of its time resting on small blocks of ice at the edge of the pack ice. Its molt happens so quickly that some individuals are nearly flightless for a while.
  • The Arctic Tern can live to be at least 34 years old. It usually does not begin to breed until it is three or four years old.
  • Most Arctic Terns return to the area where they were hatched, often to the same colony. One individual, however, was banded as a chick in northwestern Russia and found two years later in eastern Greenland.
  • Downy Arctic Tern hatchlings come in two colors: gray or brown. Chicks within the same brood may be of different colors.



Breeds in open tundra, boreal forest, or on rocky islands and beaches. Migrates far off shore. Winters on edge of pack ice.



Small fish, crustaceans, and insects.


Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–3 eggs
Egg Description
Olive to buff, marked with numerous small spots and blotches of dark brown, often concentrated around the larger end.
Condition at Hatching
Downy, eyes open, able to walk but stays in nest.
Nest Description

Scrape in gravel or grass, or platform of vegetation or debris. Placed on ground in open.

Nest Placement



Aerial Dive

Plunges into water from flight; may hover briefly before plunging. Occasionally catches flying insects.


status via IUCN

Least Concern

Data on populations is limited, with no estimates available for most of its breeding range. Hunting for millinery trade caused declines of Atlantic populations in late 19th century. Southernmost populations declining and listed as of special concern.


  • Hatch, J. J. 2002. Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea). In The Birds of North America, No. 707 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Range Map Help

Arctic Tern Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings


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