Arctic tern

Sterna paradisaea

What do they look like?

The Artic tern (or ‘sea swallow’), is a medium sized tern with a distinctive black cap which extends down the back of its neck. It is silvery grey across its wings and back, with a slightly darker grey underside and bright red legs. Often confused with the similar common tern, it can be distinguished by its longer tail streamers and the absence of a black tip on its red beak.

When can I see them in Scotland?

April to August

Where can I see them in Scotland?

The Arctic tern is a summer visitor to Scotland, nesting in colonies on sandy and shingle beaches. They are well-known for their aggressive behaviour around nesting sites, dive bombing intruders to protect their eggs or chicks. The Arctic tern holds the record for the longest migration of any animal on earth, travelling as far as the Antarctic every winter. The distance they travel each year ranges from 44,000-59,000 miles.

Conservation Status:

In the UK, bird species with breeding, passage or wintering populations are assessed by experts and assigned to the Red, Amber or Green lists of conservation concern. Arctic terns are currently an ‘Amber’ listed species.

80 cm
20-24 days
21-24 days
13 years
Average lifespan

© Gavin McDougall