Arctic Tern – (Sterna paradisaea)
The arctic tern sees more sun than any other animal as it has two summers every year due to it migrating around 70,900km from Iceland to the Antarctic coast. For breeding in the Netherlands this figure can go up to 90,000km! In order to fly so far they glide a lot of the time, conserving far more energy than wing flapping. They also sleep whilst gliding, but as well as being able to glide very well they can also hover, a rare gift in birds, and usually attributed solely to hummingbirds. However in order to do so for a long time they do require some headwind.
The arctic tern is known for being ever so noisy, although just before a group migrates they become silent, known as the ‘dread.’ As whale watchers we use their calls to find whales, as they are often the first clue. We can hear them signalling to each other from a long way off, even if the visibility is not great. As we get closer we can see a cloud of these birds repeatedly diving down into the water, making the most of the easy pickings. The fish are being pushed to the surface by the feeding whales, making hunting a much easier job for them!
Arctic terns are medium sized birds, measuring 33-35cm in length with a wingspan of around 80cm. They mate for life and have a brilliant courting technique, starting with the female chasing the male high into the air then slowly descending, this is called the ‘high flight’. After this comes the ‘fish flight’ where the male gives the female a fish. If this all goes well then they strut on land to each other, with the tail up and the wings down. Finally, they will fly around circling each other.
They are extremely territorial of their nesting sites, and will dive bomb any thing they see as a threat, pecking at the head of the predator. Despite their size meaning that they won’t cause any serious damage they are perfectly capable of repelling large predators, from humans even up to polar bears!