The Arctic Tern of the Pacific Northwest
The Arctic Tern is a relatively small bird with long, narrow wings and very short legs. In breeding plumage, the arctic tern has a light grey mantle and belly. The lower half of the head is white, and the upper part is black with no crest. The tail is white and projects beyond the wingtips when the bird is perched. The bill and legs are red.
In the non breeding season, the Arctic Tern has a receding black cap, with a white forehead that extends halfway across the top of the head towards the back and the legs and beak are black. Juveniles have a light brown wash to their plumage, but this is mostly gone by August.
The Arctic Tern has a circumpolar distribution, breeding colonially in the Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. The species is strongly migratory, seeing two summers each year as it migrates from its northern breeding grounds in the Arctic to the oceans around Antarctica and back, close to 50,000 km each year. This is the longest regular migration by any bird or animal for that matter. They spend time on the BC Coast.
Arctic Terns don’t breed until they are 4 years old.
Both adults help build the nest, it is constructed on the ground in large colonies, sometimes mixed with other species of terns. The nest is out in the open, a shallow depression, often lined with plants and feathers. Incubation is by both sexes and lasts about 3 weeks. The parents will vigorously defend the nest, dive away all intruders. A couple of days after hatching, the young leave the nest and hide in nearby cover. Both parents help feed the young until they fledge, usually at around 4 weeks of age. The young stay with their parents for another 2 months or more.