Wildlife Fact Sheets

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern2

Arctic Tern

Sterna paradisaea

  • Life Span
    20-30 years
  • Habitat
    Treeless areas near the open ocean like gravel beaches and coastal tundra.
  • Range
    You can find me all over the world from the Arctic to Antarctica.
  • Preferred Food
    Crustaceans, insects, worms, and mollusks, as well as small fish herring, sand lances, and cod.


I’m one of the more graceful birds, much like a ballerina, only I can fly. And I have feathers. And a beak. I’m so good at gliding through the air, I can do it in my sleep. I’m a pale gray color with plumage that depends on breeding. Breeding features a black cap, a red beak, and red legs while non-breeding has black beaks and legs and a decidedly smaller black cap that forms just around the eye area. My small size gives me excellent agility to snatch up fish just below the surface of the water, or from other birds. Survival of the fittest, I always say.

I’m happy to be surrounded by my colony when preparing for and raising a nest. During nesting season, we get to see terns from all over the world, different species too. After the young are able to properly care for themselves, it’s back to the open ocean for some space and fresh air. I will defend my nest vigorously. In Yup’ik, my name is Teqirayuli, which according to the Alaska Native Knowledge Network means roughly, “The dear little bird that is good at using its bottom to disadvantage others.” In other words, my dive bombing skills are very good!

Did You Know?

I have one of the longest known migration routes, traveling up to 90,000 km in one year. Because I am in the Arctic for the northern summer and the Antarctic for the southern summer, I see more daylight each year than any other creature. And never have to worry about winter.

Status and Conservation

I’m extremely free-spirited and go wherever the wind takes me. You can find me all over the world, depending on the season. I like to be near the water and open air. I prefer to nest on small islands and gravel beaches where I can have a bedroom view of the ocean.

Fast Facts

Arctic Terns are one of the only birds aside from the Hummingbird that can hover.

Arctic Terns travel an estimated 1.8 million miles in their lifetime.


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