Arctic Tern: Medium-sized, graceful seabird with long, pointed wings, thin, dagger-like bill, and elongated outer tail feathers. Mostly light gray body, wings with narrow, black strip on outer edge of flight feathers, and black cap. Short, red legs and red bill. Has longest migration of any bird.
Range and Habitat
Arctic Tern: Summer breeder in northern England, Scotland, north Wales, Isle of Man and Ireland. Passes through central England on route to breeding grounds. Found in coastal areas and inland reservoirs. Spends winter months in Antarctica.
The nineteen families in the taxonomic order CHARADRIIFORMES (pronounced kah-RAH-dree-ih-FOR-meez) include waterbirds such as oystercatchers, avocets, gulls, and terns.
Distributed worldwide (including the polar regions), the family Sternidae (pronounced STURN-uh-dee) encompasses forty-four species of terns in nine genera (IOC World Bird List, version 2.3). It should be noted that terns were, until recently, included in the same family as gulls (the Laridae).
In Europe twenty-two species of Sternidae in eight genera have occurred. Members of this bird family include the “marsh terns" of the Chlidonias genus (Black, White-winged Black, and Whiskered Terns), and the Arctic Tern.
Members of the Sternidae are known for their elegant appearance, graceful flight, and association with aquatic habitats.
Terns are web-footed birds with long, rather slim wings. Most species have thin, dagger-like bills (Gull-billed and Caspian Terns being notable exceptions), and notched or forked tails. They range in size from that of a Starling (the Little Tern) to a bit larger than a Common Gull (the Caspian Tern).
Adult terns are mostly pale-coloured birds plumaged in grey and white with black on the crown and in the wingtips. Marsh terns and noddies are generally darker in coloration. Other colours are limited to red and yellow (in the bills and feet) and rose-coloured hues in the plumage of the Roseate Tern.
The Sternidae occur near fresh and salt water throughout Europe but are most common near large bodies of water.
European tern species are highly migratory and for the most part spend the winter in subtropical and tropical coasts and waterways of Africa.
The Sternidae are social, rather vocal birds that nest in colonies in marshes, on isolated beaches, and rocky islets. Most species forage for small fish by diving into the water although some terns will also hawk insects from the air during flight.
Several tern species have declined due to disturbance at their nesting colonies, pollution of waterways, and destruction of their marsh, riverine, and coastal habitats. Populations of the Little Tern (and the related Least Tern of North America) have been especially hard hit by these factors and have thus become species of conservation concern in many areas.
The Arctic Tern migrates more than twenty thousand miles each year on a round trip journey between the Arctic and Antarctic. Some populations of this species actually do a circle of the Atlantic by flying to northern Europe, heading south along the African coast to Antarctica and then following the American coastlines north.