Farne Island record-breaking bird

Arctic tern on its nest
Published : 06 Jun 2016 Last update : 30 Jun 2016

An Arctic Tern from one of our places has completed the longest bird migration on record.

Newcastle University researchers for BBC’s Springwatch have been mapping Arctic Terns' migration routes. They tagged 29 birds from from one of the places we care for - the Farne Islands in Northumberland.

They have found that one of the birds, weighing just 100g, flew 96,000 km to Antarctica and back.

The previous record was held by an Arctic Tern from the Netherlands, which had made a 91,000km round trip to its wintering grounds and back.

Last year BBC Springwatch presenter Nick Baker and some of our rangers watched the birds being fitted with geolocators. In the spring, the first of the birds arrived back in the Farnes to breed.

An amazing feat

The researchers, Dr Richard Bevan and Dr Chris Redfern speak about the findings on BBC Springwatch, broadcast on 7 June 2016.

‘It’s really quite humbling to see these tiny birds return when you consider the huge distances they’ve had to travel and how they’ve battled to survive,’ says Dr Richard Bevan.

‘Further analysis of the data from these trackers will allow us to get a better understanding of how the Arctic Terns organise their migration and how global climate change may affect their routes.'

Over its lifetime the record-breaking tern could be flying as far as 3 million km between the Farne Islands and Antarctica, the equivalent of nearly four trips to the moon and back.

‘For a bird that weighs less than an iPhone, that’s an amazing feat,’ says Dr Bevan.

Protecting the Farne Islands' birds

More than two thousand pairs of Arctic Terns breed on the Farne Islands. Two miles off the coast of Northumberland, the islands are home to 87,000 pairs of seabirds, including Puffin, Eider Duck and Shag. We have been looking after the Farne Islands since 1925.

Lana Blakely, our ranger on the Farne Islands, says: ‘Thousands of visitors flock to the Farnes every year to enjoy the remarkable wildlife. What our visitors don’t always see is the scientific work that our rangers have been doing behind the scenes for over four decades to monitor wildlife on the islands.’

Mapping the route

  • 25 July 2015: The Arctic Tern left the Farne Islands and took a month to reach the tip of South Africa.
  • October: Moves into the Indian Ocean area where it spent nearly all of October.
  • End of October: Reaches the coast of Antarctica.
  • October - February : Slowly makes its way along the edge of the Antarctic continent until eventually ending up in the Weddell Sea.
  • Early May: Moves to the tip of South Africa and makes its way along the west coast of Africa.
  • 4 May 2015: Arrives in Farne Islands' area.
Arctic tern in flight on the Farne Islands, Northumberland


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