Imagine soaring over oceans and continents, from pole to pole, basking in endless summer sunlight. This is precisely what Arctic terns experience during their epic migration, a journey that allows them to see summer twice a year.

These tiny seabirds are the world record holders for the farthest distance traveled by any known animal. Arctic terns migrate from their breeding grounds in northern Canada to offshore southern Antarctica and back to their breeding grounds.

Considering that Arctic terns make circuitous flights depending on the prevailing winds, each bird makes one round trip per year, flying an average of over 70,000 kilometers (45,000 miles). Arctic terns are long-lived; they can survive for more than 30 years. It is estimated that these long-distance champions will fly more than 2.4 million kilometers (1.5 million miles) in a lifetime, enough to travel to and from the moon five or six times.

The Magnificent Migration

The Arctic Tern is a migratory bird that breeds in the Arctic during the summer and migrates to the Antarctic during the winter. Its journey is breathtaking. The Arctic Tern is a migratory bird that breeds in the Arctic during the summer and migrates to the Antarctic during the winter.


The Arctic tern breeding season takes place from June through August in the Arctic. They typically nest on beaches in coastal areas, laying one to three eggs. The parents take turns incubating the eggs for about three weeks. After hatching, the chicks remain in the nest for a few weeks to be cared for and fed by their parents in preparation for migration.

Autumn Migration

Once the chicks are able to fly, they migrate southward, typically in August or September. The migration of Arctic terns is a remarkable process, as they follow the flight path of the Atlantic or between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, flying across the entire globe to the Antarctic region. The journey can take several months and cover tens of thousands of miles.
Arctic terns spend the winter at the South Pole searching for food, primarily fish and crustaceans. Despite the months-long Antarctic winters, these resilient birds can withstand the harsh conditions.

Spring Migration

As winter comes to a close, Arctic terns will begin their northward migration back to the Arctic to breed. This typically happens in the spring, around March or April. They will search for appropriate breeding sites, lay eggs, incubate them, and rear chicks in preparation for the next migration.

Why Arctic Tern Travel Such a long Distance from a pole to another

Have you ever wondered why they migrate from one pole to the other, all the way to Antarctica?
Arctic Terns migrate such long distances from the Arctic to Antarctica and back each year primarily for two key reasons: to exploit the abundant food resources available in polar regions during their respective summer seasons and to avoid the harsh winter conditions of their breeding grounds.

Exploiting Seasonal Abundance of Food

Arctic Summer

During the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere, the Arctic experiences continuous daylight. This leads to a surge in productivity of marine ecosystems, resulting in an abundance of fish and small marine invertebrates. These provide ample food for Arctic Terns during their breeding season.

Antarctic Summer:

As winter approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, food becomes scarce, and daylight hours shorten. The terns then migrate to the Antarctic, where the Southern Hemisphere summer is beginning. This region, like the Arctic in summer, experiences an increase in marine life due to extended daylight and nutrient-rich waters, providing a plentiful feeding ground for the terns.


Avoiding Harsh Winters

Winter can be extremely cold in the Pole area. As a result, the Arctic tern have to leave for a warmer place.

Arctic Terns migrate to avoid the harsh winter conditions of both poles, where extreme cold and lack of food would make survival difficult if they remained year-round.

This migration pattern enables them to experience more daylight hours than any other creature on Earth. They live in almost perpetual daylight during the breeding and feeding seasons, maximizing their opportunities for feeding and nurturing their young.

Energy Efficiency

Although this migration requires a lot of energy, it is an efficient survival strategy. The benefits of accessing abundant food resources and favorable climatic conditions, which support breeding and raising their young, offset the long journey.

Evolutionary Adaptation

Arctic Terns have evolved over thousands of years to make this incredible journey. Their body structure, including long wings for gliding and efficient energy use, and their navigational abilities, are perfectly adapted to this long-distance travel.
The Arctic Tern's migration is an impressive adaptation to the seasonal changes of our planet. It demonstrates the extraordinary measures that wildlife will take to survive and flourish in different environments.
migrate map
(source from wikipedia)
January 12, 2024 — Garfield He

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