Arctic Tern

Sterna paradisaea


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 nests, often 'dive-bombing' them with their sharp bills at the ready. Famed for their long migrations, they return to this country in April to breed and leave again in September.

How to identify

Common terns and Arctic 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. Arctic terns are silvery-grey above and white below, with a black cap and tiny red legs.

Where to find it

A summer visitor, nesting on islands around the north of England and Scotland. Can be seen around most of our coasts and on large lakes and reservoirs during migration.


When to find it

  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September

How can people help

Arctic tern populations are vulnerable to fish shortages, habitat loss and disturbance. The Wildlife Trusts are working with fishermen, researchers, politicians and local people towards a vision of 'Living Seas' where marine wildlife thrives. This work has recently had a massive boost with the passing of the Marine Bill, promising sustainable development of the UK's marine environment. Do your bit for our Living Seas by supporting your local Wildlife Trust.

Species information

Common name
Arctic Tern
Latin name
Sterna paradisaea
Gulls and seabirds
Length: 33-35cm Wingspan: 80cm Weight: 110g Average Lifespan: 13 years
Conservation status
Classified in the UK as an Amber List species under the Birds of Conservation Concern review.