Arctic Terns on the Farne Islands

Without doubt the species with the most presence on the islands are the Arctic Terns. During the breeding season our home becomes theirs and life very much evolves to fit in around these magnificent birds.

By the beginning of June the majority of the terns are down on eggs and a few weeks later we will begin to find the newest generation of this truly remarkable species. By the end of the year, some of these birds (currently tiny eggs) will be somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, most likely off the coast of Australia or the Antarctic pack ice. This species experiences more daylight hours than any other land animal on the planet.

Arctic Terns have a somewhat notorious reputation among our visitors to Inner Farne in that they will staunchly defend their eggs and chicks from perceived attack. This usually involves the bird clicking, flying up, making lots of noise, and occasionally pecking the heads of passers-by! We advise wearing a hat and walking steadily through the colony and the main place to look is at your feet – there can be eggs and chicks on the path from May to July on Inner Farne.

" We do always advise visitors to the Farnes to wear a hat, and it is not always because of the weather."
- Hannah Teasdale

In 2015, 2016 and 2017 the Terns were fitted with geo-locaters, so we could track their movements over the winter. One individual made the longest migration of any bird, the equivalent of twice around the circumference of the globe in one year.

We set up a number of shingle and sand plots around Inner Farne and Brownsman to see if the Arctic Terns would use them. So far these trial plots are being well used at present. This is the perfect place for them to nest – they like bare sand and path patches adjacent to vegetation where the chicks can shelter and hide.

These trial shingle beds are designed to give the terns an alternative habitat and help us control vegetation on the Islands
A pair of Arctic Terns on a trial shingle plot
These trial shingle beds are designed to give the terns an alternative habitat and help us control vegetation on the Islands