Introducing Greenland’s Arctic Tern

April 26, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

In Greenland we find 235 different species of birds. Some of the most common species are the sea eagles, Arctic fulmars, black guillemots, eiders, ptarmigans and of course the Arctic terns.

Meet the Arctic Tern in Its Natural Habitat: Kitsissunnguit

The Arctic tern lives near the ocean or at the brim of lakes, and is found in great numbers in the archipelago Kitsissunnguit. Kitsissunnguit is located in Disko Bay, only a 1-2 hour boat ride away from the city Aasiaat. The islands of Kitsissunnguit have been preserved since 1988 due to the extensive birdlife and the many breeding Arctic terns. Birdwatchers still have access to the islands, giving bird lovers a unique view of the Arctic terns’ life in their natural environment.

Be Able to Identify the Arctic Tern

The Arctic tern is a relatively little bird, and it looks quite elegant with its white feathers and black forehead. It is approximately 33-39 cm in length and has a wingspan of 66-77 cm. The Arctic tern can become as old as 30 years and they live together in colonies when breeding. They mostly feed on small fish, such as capelins, fry and small crustaceans that live in the surface of the nearby ocean and lakes.

There isn’t much difference between the sexes, except for the males’ slightly longer tail feathers. When the terns are born they have a greyish or brownish down which is replaced with the white feathers with brown markings later on.

The Arctic terns start breeding at the age of two, arriving at Kitsissunnguit and places like it, in May and June before they go south for the winter. The Arctic tern is the longest flying bird, covering the immense distance from the Atlantic Sea to western Europe and along Africa’s west coast to the Antarctic waters. When reaching the coasts of Greenland, the Arctic terns start building their nests directly on the sandy beaches or in close vegetation near the lakes. They’ll then lay and nurture their eggs, and 21 days later the eggs will hatch and the youngs are born. The youngs stay in the nest for the next couple of days before they start exploring their nearby surroundings. After another 21 days the youngs start flying and they’re now all grown up.

An Incredibly Social Bird

The Arctic tern is a rather social bird that prefers to live together with a lot of other terns in big colonies. The colonies usually consist of 10,000-20,000 tern couples, and it is estimated that Greenland is visited by 65,000 mating couples in every heavy mating year.

With so many birds crammed together at a relatively small space gives the tern a great advantage relative to protecting themselves against predators. Most birds are threatened by dangers such as humans, foxes, gulls and falcons, but the terns are known for their ability to scare these off. It is so safe near the Arctic tern colonies, that other types of birds live right next to them for protection.

Article contributed by Mia Petersen

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