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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 spending 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.
  • Arctic Tern can live for decades. They usually do not begin to breed until they are 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.
  • The oldest recorded Arctic Tern was at least 34 years old, when it was recaptured and rereleased during a banding operation in Maine.



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. They are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List.


Range Map Help

Arctic Tern Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings


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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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