Arctic Tern, World Class Migrant

Arctic Tern, World Class Migrant

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. (Psalm 55:6)

How many humans have admired the ability of birds to fly through the sky? Count me as one such admirer.  What a wonder God’s winged creatures are, as they fly in the air!  And some fly enormous distances.  The bird who flies farthest, twice a year, is the ARCTIC TERN.

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ARCTIC TERN (photo credit: Audubon Field Guide / National Audubon Society)

This black-headed seagull migrates twice a year, flying back and forth from near the top of the world (Iceland, Greenland, etc.) to near the bottom (islands near Antarctica)  – sometimes traveling 57,000 miles during a year! It has breeding nests (homes where it lays eggs and cares for its babies when they hatch) in far-north lands like Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia, and Russia, then it flies south to near Antarctica as the North gets cold. Because Arctic Terns often swoop over seawater they are also called “sea swallows”. But, unlike swallows (that eat flying bugs), Arctic Terns use their red beaks to catch and eat small fish (as well as little crabs and shrimp-like animals called krill).  And they better time on a regular basis — they certainly need fuel!

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ARCTIC TERN migration map (BBC News / TravelQuaz.com credit)