Arctic Tern

Sterna paradisaea

Arctic Tern


Arctic terns have webbed feet and long forked tails. They have grey throats, back and bellies, white cheeks, orange legs in the summer and dark legs in the fall and winter. Their head feathers look like a solid black cap and they have black wing tips. Their bills are bright red in the summer and black in the winter.

Range & Habitat

These birds have the longest migration of any bird. They spend the winter in Antarctic seas and the summer in the Arctic which means they must fly over 35,000 kilometres. In B.C. they only breed in the northwest corner of the province. They spend most of their life in the open ocean but come to grassy coastal cliffs and summer lakes to breed.

Diet & Behaviour

Arctic terns eat small fish, shrimp and krill. They swoop from the air to the water to catch their prey. Terns live in large colonies (groups of birds).

Lifecycle & Threats

A female tern lays one to two eggs in a protected area near the water. Both parents look after the eggs and the babies. A mature arctic tern can live to be 20 years old. Threats to terns include predatory seabirds, like frigates and gulls, and exhaustion from flying on their long migration.


COSEWIC: Not at Risk
CDC: Yellow

More Information


Photo: Patrick Mayon, Flickr