Arctic tern

Arctic Tern

©Gillian Day

Arctic Tern

©David Tipling/2020VISION

Arctic tern

Scientific name: Sterna paradisaea
The arctic tern is famed for its aggression towards any that would disturb its nest - it will dive-bomb intruders with its sharp beak. Large, noisy colonies can be found on the Farne Islands and Northern Isles, in particular.

Species information


Length: 33-35cm
Wingspan: 75-85cm
Weight: 95-120g
Average lifespan: 13 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Amber under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2021).

When to see

April to August


The arctic tern is a medium-sized tern, which nests in colonies on sand and shingle beaches along the coast. arctic terns are noisy in their colonies and, like most terns, will attack intruders threatening their young, often dive-bombing them with their sharp bills at the ready. Famed for their long migrations, they arrive in this country in April and leave again in September.

How to identify

Arctic terns and Common Terns can be very difficult to tell apart. The arctic tern is greyer below, has very long tail streamers, and a shorter bill, which is blood-red with no black tip. It is silvery-grey above, with a black cap and tiny, red legs.


A summer visitor, nesting on islands around the north of England and Scotland - large colonies can be found on the Farne Islands in Northumberland, and the Northern Isles. Can be seen around most of our coasts and on large lakes and reservoirs during migration.

Did you know?

Arctic terns have one of the longest migrations of any bird: they breed in the Arctic and the UK during summer, and travel all the way to the Antarctic for the winter. Their journey ranges from 44,000 miles to 59,000 miles per year – that’s the longest migration recorded for any animal. In fact, over its whole life, an arctic tern can fly the same distance as taking three round trips to the Moon!

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