Graceful frosty white and gray seabirds, Arctic Terns are one of the planet’s great wanderers, migrating between the Arctic tundra and the Antarctic Ocean twice each year. Some Arctic Terns travel more than 50,000 miles each year – the longest known migration of any bird – and can live 20-30 years.
On the Menu
Arctic Terns eat small fish, which they catch by diving into the water or plucking them from the surface. They also eat small invertebrates, including crustaceans and insects.
Home Sweet Home
As their name suggests, Arctic Terns nest on the Arctic tundra and coastlines all across northern Canada, Alaska and other northern states, Greenland, and Eurasia. They nest on the ground in social colonies, and pairs often remain together for several years. Once nesting is complete, Arctic Terns head for the open ocean and fly south all the way to the Antarctic Ocean to take advantage of the Southern Hemisphere’s long summer before heading north to breed again.
How Am I Doing?
Arctic Terns have a large global population, and much of their habitat is remote and relatively unspoiled, though hunting, introduced species, and drops in food supplies have reduced their numbers in some southern locales. Oil development also threatens these birds in parts of their range. Additionally, because of their close association with coasts and seas, the birds are vulnerable to rising sea levels and changing temperatures, precipitation, and ocean patterns and changes in fisheries.
Help from Audubon
Audubon’s support for the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act and other sound public policy supports native migratory birds like the champion Arctic Tern, and Audubon’s work to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other crucial habitats in Alaska is helping to protect the integrity and productivity of Arctic habitats on which the terns and many other species rely. In Maine, Audubon's Project Puffin helps protect some of the largest Arctic Tern colonies in the world.
Because Arctic Terns spend their lives in the very long days of both the Arctic and Antarctic summers, they spend more of their lives in the sun than any other animal.