Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The arctic Tern - the ultimate Thulean bird

"An animal to represent the planet", an excellent candidate as symbolic animal of the world, the arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea) really travels and lives a lot.

Arctic terns migrate from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back every year, in a 19 000 Km journey each way! This is the longest regular migration by any known animal.

As they enjoy two summers per year, they are believed to spend more time in the sunshine than any other animal. Their feeding and nesting grounds as well as their migratory paths keep them far enough away from people. Arctic Terns usually migrate far offshore. Consequently, they are rarely seen from land outside the breeding season.

It wouldn’t be difficult to create a global myth around such a rarely seen animal.

Arctic terns are long-lived birds, with many reaching twenty years of age; some may reach thirty !

Arctic Terns are medium-sized birds. They are mainly grey and white plumaged, with a dark red beak, legs and feet, white forehead, a black nape and crown (streaked white), and white cheeks.

The arctic stern has a bad temper: it is one of the most aggressive birds, fiercely defensive of its nest and young. It will attack even humans and large predators, usually striking the top or back of the head.

One example of this bird's remarkable long-distance flying abilities involves an arctic tern ringed on the Farne Islands, Northumberland, UK in summer 1982, which reached Melbourne, Australia in October 1982, a sea journey of over 22 000 km in just three months from fledging.

Migration route of the arctic stern