ARCTIC TERN – (Sterna paradisaea)
The Arctic tern, as its English name implies, is found in the Arctic around the globe, and spends its summers around the Antarctic. It is the species with the longest migration, up to 90 000 km (56,000 mi.) in one year!! This tern species has a very long life span in spite of being such an extensive traveler, up to some 30 years.
DESCRIPTION: The Arctic tern is medium grey on top with a black head cap and nape, and has white under parts. The long pointed wings extend almost to the tip of the deeply forked tail, and the primaries have blackish ends, visible in flight. The bill and legs are red in the adults, black in the juveniles. Sexes are similar, and winter plumage doesn’t change much, except for less white on the forehead. This bird is around 30 cm (12 in.) long.
IDENTIFICATION: Arctic terns are similar to the Common tern. Here are some differences however: the common tern red bill has a dark tip, its legs are longer, and the tail is shorter.
NAME: The English name ‘Tern’ comes from Old English ‘Stearn’ to designate that bird. As for the Latin name ‘paradisaea’, which means ‘paradise’, it is usually attributed to the Birds of Paradise. The bird’s Latin name attributor, bishop and historian Erik Pontopiddan, perhaps thought that ‘so beautiful a creature belonged in that perfect home beyond the sky’ (personal communication). Although many bird species include subspecies, there are no known ones so far for the Arctic tern.
DIET: Arctic terns feed on small crustaceans and insects, in addition to fish. They usually dive near the water surface, but they may also catch insects on the fly.
HABITAT: tundra, open boreal forest edges, bodies of water near the ocean such as estuaries and bays, also sand bars and small islands.
NESTING: This species breeds in large colonies on the tundra along Arctic coasts. The nest is a depression on the ground. Parents are aggressively defensive of their nests, and will not hesitate to attack large predators (including humans).
ON PEI: Although the Arctic tern does breed on PEI on the north shore, its occurrence on the island is considered as rare as this is the southernmost part of its breeding range.
DISTRIBUTION: The main breeding range of the Arctic tern is located in the Arctic and includes the boreal forest, the tundra, rocky islands and beaches.