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Bird name:

Arctic Tern

Sterna paradisaea




Terns (Sternidae)





Euring 5

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Breeding Location:

Rivers, Beaches, sandy or shingle, Heathland, Islands

Breeding Type:

Monogamous, Colonial

Egg Colour:

Smooth and buff or greenish with brown to olive specks, spots and scrawls.

Number of Eggs:

1 - 3

Incubation Days:

20 - 24

Egg Incubator:

Both sexes

Nest Material:

A shallow scrape in sand, gravel, or moss which may or may not be lined with bits of grass or similar materials.

Nest Location:

On a beach but a ways in from the shoreline and hidden in vegetation.




Arctic Tern: Medium-sized, graceful seabird with long, pointed wings, thin, dagger-like bill, and elongated outer tail feathers. Mostly light gray body, black cap, and wings with narrow, black strip on outer edge of flight feathers. Short, red legs and red bill. Sexes similar. Juveniles have white underparts, shorter tail, black bill, white front, dark bar on leading edge of wings, and scaled appearance to upperparts.

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.

Breeding and Nesting

Arctic Tern: Pairs mate for life and have one clutch per year. Nesting is in colonies vigorously defended by males. Nests are a hollow in sand, gravel, or moss on a beach but a ways in from the shoreline and hidden in vegetation. Breeding is most successful when nests are close together.

Foraging and Feeding

Arctic Tern: Feeds mostly on fish, especially sand eels, which they catch by making short dives. Lack of sand eels, possibly due to over-fishing by humans, is a threat. Feeding is generally within 3 km of the breeding colony. Also eat crustaceans and insects.


Arctic Tern: Call is a raspy "tr-tee-ar."

Similar Species

Arctic Tern: The Common Tern is very similar in plumage, but is slightly smaller, has a shorter bill, legs, and tail. Little Terns are smaller and have yellow bills and legs, rather than orange.


Belly, undertail coverts, chest, flanks, and foreneck.

Back, rump, hindneck, wings, and crown.
The area on top of the head of the bird.
Flight feathersX
Located on the wing, and collectively called remiges (singular, remex). The long stiff feathers are subdivided into two major groups based on the location and are called primaries and secondaries.
Outer tail feathersX
The tail feathers farthest from the center.
4 and 6 letter alpha codesX

The four letter common name alpha code is is derived from the first two letters of the common first name and the first two letters of common last name. The six letter species name alpha code is derived from the first three letters of the scientific name (genus) and the first three letters of the scientific name (species). See (1) below for the rules used to create the codes..

Four-letter (for English common names) and six-letter (for scientific names) species alpha codes were developed by Pyle and DeSante (2003, North American Bird-Bander 28:64-79) to reflect A.O.U. taxonomy and nomenclature (A.O.U. 1998) as modified by Supplements 42 (Auk 117:847-858, 2000) and 43 (Auk 119:897-906, 2002). The list has been updated by Pyle and DeSante to reflect changes reported by the A.O.U from 2003 through 2006.


The Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) was established in the mid-1990 s as a cooperative project among several federal agencies to improve and expand upon taxonomic data (known as the NODC Taxonomic Code) maintained by the National Oceanographic Data Center (NODC), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

To find the ITIS page for a bird species go to the ITIS web site advanced search and report page at You can enter the TSN or the common name of the bird. It will return the ITIS page for that bird. Another way to obtain the ITIS page is to use the Google search engine. Enter the string ITIS followed by the taxonomic ID, for example "ITIS 178041" will return the page for the Allen's Hummingbird.

Parts of a Standing birdX
Head Feathers and MarkingsX
Parts of a Flying birdX