It is called the arctic tern. It is a medium-sized bird with a gray back and wings and a whitish tail. It has a very visible black cap on its head. During the breeding season, its bill is completely red, as are its legs. What makes it so special? It is the bird that travels 80,000 kilometers a year. In its lifetime, it travels 6 times the distance from the moon to the earth.
Breeds in the arctic and subarctic regions of North America, Asia and Europe. Greenland has the largest concentration of colonies in the world.
At the end of August they head for the Southern Ocean. And it performs one of the longest seasonal migrations in the entire animal kingdom. More than 80,000 kilometers per year. It goes through extreme weather conditions and a high energy expenditure. Many will perish before reaching their destination. It is estimated that this bird can live about three decades.
In its lifetime it will have traveled about 2.4 million kilometers. Six times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
During the journey they make an important stop (lasting up to a month) north of the Azores Islands. There they replenish their strength, feeding on fish and small marine crustaceans.
From pole to pole
The bird that travels 80 thousand kilometers a year is able to detect ocean currents, which is fundamental for its feeding. These currents bring up nutrients that attract plankton and small fish on which they will feed.
They arrive in Antarctica in December, four months after their departure. They take advantage of their stay on the Antarctic coast to dive for krill and other food. They remain there until mid-April of the following year, when they return. This will be much faster, thanks to the winds. In just two months they are back in their northern home, ready to mate.
With the return the Arctic tern closes its annual cycle, a journey that links the two poles. One where it breeds and the other where it spends the rest of its non-breeding time.