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Conservation status: Amber

With its long tail streamers and general shape the Arctic tern deserves the local name of 'sea swallow'. Appearing white with a black cap, it is largely coastal although it can be seen inland on migration. It depends on a healthy marine environment and some colonies have been affected by fish shortages. Arctic terns are the ultimate long distance migrants - summer visitors to the UK and winter visitors to the Antarctic.



Latin name

Sterna paradisaea


Terns (Sternidae)

Where to see them

Breeding terns can best be seen on island such as the Farne Islands in Northumberland or on the Northern Isles where the greatest breeding densities occur. Look out for them on spring pasage at inland reservoirs and around the coast in autumn as they head south.

When to see them

European birds start to arrive back from their Antarctic winter break in May, with northernmost birds getting back in June. Many birds occur inland during their migration north, passing through central England in late April/early May. Migration south commences after breeding in late July and August.

What they eat

Mainly fish


EuropeUK breeding*UK wintering*UK passage*
500-900,000 pairs53,000 pairs--



In the UK
Northern England, Scotland, north Wales, Isle of Man and Ireland.
In Europe
Scandinavia, Russia, Iceland and other Arctic islands, and UK, Ireland, Netherlands and Germany
Found from the Arctic to the Antarctic


Niels Krabbe, Xeno-canto