Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea)


French: Sterne arctique German: Küstenseeschwalbe Spanish: Charrán ártico

Sterna Paradisaea


, 1763,

Christiansø Islands, Denmark


Listed as S. macrura in many older works. Genetic data#R indicate that present species, S. dougallii, S. hirundinacea, S. hirundo and S. vittata may form a monophyletic group that also includes Old World S. striata and S. sumatrana, with S. forsteri and S. trudeaui possibly also part of this group. Can hybridize with S. dougallii. Monotypic.


Iceland, Britain and Netherlands through Scandinavia, and across N Asia, almost exclusively N of Arctic Circle, to Bering Strait, with isolated breeding sites in Kamchatka and Sakhalin I#R, and most northerly breeding area in Franz Josef Land; Aleutians and N Alaska across to NW & NE Greenland, and S to British Columbia and New York, with isolated colony in NW Washington. Four nests documented in NE Montana from 1998–2000, none of them successful#R#R. Migrates to Antarctica, where spends much of N winter in pack-ice zone.

Descriptive notes

33–36 cm; 86–127 g; wingspan 76–85 cm. Breeding adult has forehead and crown black; rest of plumage rather uniform grey, including underparts, but with... read more


Highly vocal at nesting colonies. Quieter elsewhere but may give an advertising call when carrying... read more


Temperate to high Arctic regions, mainly coastal, but also far inland. Nests on shingle beaches,... read more

Food and feeding

Mainly small fish; also crustaceans, molluscs and insects; amphipods and euphausiids important in certain areas. In early spring... read more


Laying May–June in south of range, July in north; varies also with temperature and food availability. Colonies range from few... read more


Renowned for exceptionally long and unparalleled migrations between high Arctic breeding sites and... read more

Status and conservation

Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Global population estimated at more than two million individuals, roughly equally divided between the Nearctic and Palearctic... read more

Recommended citation

Gochfeld, M., Burger, J. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2020). Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 18 February 2020).