The arctic tern is a relatively small bird. It is also one of the most determined. Even though it is small it is still able to accomplish the remarkable feat of migrating over 22,000 miles (35,000 km) each year. The distance that it migrates is the longest of any bird. This mileage would be accurate if it flew in a straight line to where it was migrating to and from. But since it takes a lot of excursions the distance it flies each year is even greater. In fact the arctic tern almost never lands and is known to be in daylight more than dark because of its migration schedule.

Characteristics and Physical Features of the Arctic Tern

Length: 12-15 in.
Weight: Under 2 lb. approximately
Color: White with a black head and a bright orange beak.

Distinguishing Characteristics: Black markings under each wing and its bright orange beak make the arctic tern stand out among other birds.

Breeding: Breeds north of the 50th parallel. It lays clutches of one to three eggs. It takes 20 to 24 days to incubate the eggs.  Eggs are laid in grassy areas for protection from their predators and also because there are no trees in the Arctic.

Range: The entire northern hemisphere Arctic area. It is a circumpolar animal.

Diet: Small fish, shrimp, krill, or insects and small invertebrates.

Who takes care of the hatchlings?

Both the male and female terns help incubate the eggs. The eggs hatch in about 23 days after they are laid. The hatchlings leave the nest quickly and hide in nearby vegetation. Until they can feed themselves the parents catch small fish and carry it to them in their bills.
Are arctic terns sociable birds?

They are remarkable for their social habits. They live together in groups of about 50 tern which are called colonies. Sometimes they will adopt to their colony different species of terns and sea gulls.
What is a “fish flight”?

During the breeding or courtship time male terns fly a v. They take a small fish in their bill and pass as low as they can over the female on the ground. If she notices him she’ll join him in doing this “fish flight” and they will soon mate.
How is an arctic tern like a duck?

Unlike some birds they have webbed feet like a duck when you look at a tern you would think that its’ feet would be like other sea birds but they aren’t. Even though they are in the gull family they don’t have feet like a gull.
Do arctic terns like to get wet?

Research has shown that arctic terns will do everything possible totern photo courtesy Krog’s Kamp stay out of the water. Terns don’t swim well even though their feet are webbed because they have small feet so they swoop down, catch the fish, and keep flying to stay out of the water.
How is an arctic tern like a hummingbird?

Both the tern and the hummingbird can hover in midair. Most birds are not able to do this. This is an important thing for the tern to be able to do when it hunts or does its “fish flight”.
What does “on the wing” mean?

Arctic terns hardly ever land. So they eat while flying most of the time. When terns eat insects they catch them “on the wing”. This means they catch them while flying.
How do arctic people benefit from the arctic tern?

Because fish swim in schools that include both large and small fish natives watch to see where arctic terns are feeding.  By monitoring where the terns hunt they are able to find large schools of fish and increase their catch.