Tern Appreciation

Arctic tern saying hello…
Stunning birds
Nesting on the Isle of May

Sunday 5th June comments: Sometimes it’s good to sit back and appreciate what you have under your nose. On the Isle of May we have some spectacular wildlife and when you first arrive on the island you are met by one of the best; the Arctic tern.

Arctic Terns have mainly grey upperparts and white underparts but with distinctive red bill and feet. The head and crown is black and contrasts with the white cheeks. The bird has a deeply forked tail and the birds look very elegant in flight. The species has a circumpolar breeding distribution covering the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Europe, Asia and North America.

Arctic Terns are highly migratory and they arrive back in Isle of May waters in late April. In the first two weeks of May pairs will conduct vocal aerial displays over the known breeding grounds and form nightly roosts near the jetty on the island. Soon after copulation and egg laying will begin and the birds are highly aggressive towards any intruders as they will attack humans (and large predators), usually striking the top of the head (and capable of drawing blood). In the Arctic, they have been known to repel Polar bears!

The nest site is usually a depression in the ground and both sexes share incubation duties, sitting on eggs for 22-27 days. The majority of pairs will lay clutches of 2-3 eggs whilst a clutch of four is rare. Once the young hatch they are looked after by both parents and take just 21-24 days to fledge. Arctic Terns are surface feeders, plunging into the sea from a height, catching various small fish and marine invertebrates. Once the chicks are on the wing, the family parties start departing the island from early August and then begin one of the world’s most incredible journeys as they move to the Antarctic for the winter.

So there you have it, meet the Arctic Tern. One of just a few of the incredible seabirds nesting out here on the Isle of May.

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