Arctic Tern

Created on Day 5


The Arctic tern, with its streamlined body and long, pointed wings, is uniquely designed for its long, yearly flight. It also has very keen eyesight. The Arctic tern locates schools of fish in shallow water and seizes its prey at the water’s surface while in flight. It can also locate insects on land and catch them while in flight. These abilities were given to the Arctic tern by its Creator.


  • The Arctic tern has a white body with a black cap on its head, gray upper wings, back, and underparts, and a deeply forked white tail.
  • In the spring, the bill is a deep red.
  • The legs of the Arctic tern are extremely short.

Fun Facts

  • The female tern gets a mate by chasing him through the air. The male then courts her by giving her a fish.
  • This bird hovers over the water and then dives to capture its prey.
  • The Arctic tern has the second longest regular migration of any known animal, traveling from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back again—about 12,000 miles (19,000 km) each year. (Editor's Note: Due to the use of tracking devices, new studies suggest that the Arctic tern travels close to 43,000 miles round trip! See News to Note, January 16, 2010 for more information.)
  • The tern’s polar migration allows it to experience two summers per year and to see more daylight than any other animal on earth.

CLASS: Aves (birds)

ORDER: Charadriiformes (shorebirds and relatives)

FAMILY: Sternidae (terns)

GENUS/SPECIES: Sterna paradisaea

Size: 14–17 in (36–43 cm); wingspan 29–33 in (74–84 cm)

Diet: Mostly small fish, crustaceans, and insects

Habitat: Nests long seacoasts, interior lakes, and marshes north of the Arctic Circle worldwide; winters in sub-Antarctic and Antarctic waters