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Arctic Tern

The Mesmerizing Beauty of an Arctic Tern

The Arctic Tern, a species of seabird native to the Arctic and sub-arctic regions, is renowned for its graceful beauty – which may explain why it’s the official bird of the Faroe Islands. They have a calm and elegant beauty no matter which angle you observe them from.

Their thin and elongated silhouette crowns the top of the seascape, as they search for food and tend to young ones. Being a migratory bird, from the sub-arctic regions to the Antarctic, the Arctic Tern amasses some impressive flight facts and records – including having the longest annual migration of any bird, covering roughly 30,000 miles and 86 days in total.

Appearance and Characteristics of the Arctic Tern

Arctic Terns are much smaller in comparison to their seagoing cousins, with a wingspan of just 34 cm and only 35 cm in length. They have white feathers all over their bodies, black hoods across their heads, and a characteristic red beak and feet. Often seen on windswept shores where they hunt and feed, they have long, pointed wings and a narrow, deeply forked tail – the perfect design for their type of flight.

Behaviourally, these birds are highly communicative, often seen making soft ‘kree’ calls to one another as well as gentle warbles. An adult bird will have a very distinct defensive behaviour when disturbed, often seen to dive towards any intruders, usually calling out loudly in protest.

While they spend most of the year in the coastal areas of the Arctic regions, they live in the same spots for only a few months before setting off for their migratory journey. This epic southern route is notoriously dangerous and unpredictable, however, despite the risk, they cover the entire distance, in one go, landing in Antarctica – just one year of their lives.

Diet and Predators of the Arctic Tern

Arctic Terns feed mainly on small fish and aquatic invertebrates, while they remain in the northern hemisphere. However, while they travel to the Antarctic, they feed on krill, shrimp, and other crustaceans.

Their active and agile flight enables them to catch food with ease and also offers some limited protection from predators. Being an aquatic species, they also have a few avian predators such as large gulls and crows, as well as various predators on land – including other birds of prey, mink, and peregrine falcons.

Arctic Tern two

Mating and Breeding Habits of the Arctic Tern

Arctic Terns are a monogamous species, with each pair mating for life. They chooose their partners by performing elaborate courtship displays and share parental duties while the eggs are bristling. The female of the pair is typically responsible for laying the eggs, while the male takes charge of incubation duties – with both sharing equal responsibilities once the eggs have hatched.

Arctic Terns only have one brood per season and the eggs tetrads per clutch. It usually takes anywhere from 25 to 31 days for the eggs to hatch. The chicks are born precocial (able to move and feed themselves).

Helpful Role of the Arctic Tern

Considering the fact that the majority of scientific research regarding the Arctic Tern’s contribution to the ecosystem is only recent, the birds have actually been playing a crucial role since their first known appearance some 8-10 million years ago.

These birds play an essential role in controlling algae populations, thus preventing overpopulation due to the lack of natural predators, as well as in controlling some aquatic invertebrate populations – both of which help maintain the ecological balance of the oceans.


The beautiful Arctic Tern is a mesmerizing species that has the longest annual migration of any bird, often reaching 30,000 miles in a single year. Devoted mates and doting parents, they feed mainly on small fish and aquatic invertebrates.

Moreover, they play an essential role in controlling algae populations and aquatic invertebrate populations – maintaining the ecological balance of the oceans. Their beauty and helpful role surely should be highly celebrated.

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