Saturday, June 5, 2010

Arctic Tern

The Arctic Tern has the longest migration of any animal in the entire world. In a single year, these 4oz, 15 inch wingspan seabirds can fly 44,000 miles. Forty Four Thousand. And with their lifespan of over 30 years, that is equivalent to three round trip flights to the moon. For further perspective, that's 1.5 million miles, or 62 full trips around the Earth. Numbers!

Image from the Seabird Group
Terns reside in the coastal areas of the two poles, though they also have breeding grounds as far south as England and Ireland. They spend the winters down in Antarctica, feasting off of fish and crustaceans in preparation for the springtime commute up to the Arctic areas to breed and raise their young. Terns mate for life, and both parents care for their offspring, which number between one and three per clutch. Eggs take 3-4 weeks to hatch, and then it is only another 3-4 weeks after birth before the chicks fledge. They remain with their parents a few months after that, and will eventually join them and the rest of the flock on the flight back to the wintering grounds. Terns reach sexual maturity at 3-4 years of age. Like another one of our Alaska Week friends, the Chinook Salmon, the Arctic Tern returns to its birthplace in order to breed, sometimes even to the exact same colony. Happily though, they do not die!

Arctic Terns are not a threatened species overall. Populations in certain areas (such as new England) have declines or gone extinct altogether, but on the whole their remote living quarters has kept the species stable.

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