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Why does an arctic tern live in Antarctica?

Introduction: The Mysterious Migration of Arctic Terns

The Arctic tern is a bird that has captivated scientists and bird enthusiasts alike due to its remarkable migration patterns. These birds travel more than 44,000 miles every year, which is the longest migration of any bird on the planet. They spend their summers in the Arctic regions, and during the winter, they travel all the way to Antarctica. The reason why they travel such vast distances has puzzled scientists for years, and despite extensive research, many mysteries surrounding their behavior remain unsolved.

A Brief Overview of the Arctic Tern

The Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea) is a small bird that belongs to the family Sternidae. They are approximately 14 inches long, have a wingspan of around 31 inches, and weigh only 3.5 ounces. They have a distinct black cap on their heads, white feathers on their undersides, and a grey back. Arctic terns are highly social birds and are often found in large flocks. They have a distinctive call that sounds like a high-pitched "kree-arrr." They are known for their incredible endurance and can fly for days on end without stopping.

Habitat and Distribution of the Arctic Tern

Arctic terns are circumpolar birds that are found in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of the world. During the summer breeding season, they are found in Iceland, Greenland, Canada, Russia, and the northernmost parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. They nest on rocky cliffs or in shallow divots on the ground near water. During the winter migration, they travel south to Antarctica, where they spend their time near the coast.

The Journey: Arctic Tern’s Long-Distance Migration

Arctic terns undertake an incredible journey every year, flying from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back again. Their migration takes them across the equator twice, and they travel more than 44,000 miles in total. They fly along a route that takes them across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and they follow the coastlines of North and South America, Africa, and Antarctica. The journey takes them around three months to complete, and they fly at an average speed of 22 miles per hour.

Why Does the Arctic Tern Travel to Antarctica?

The reason why Arctic terns travel all the way to Antarctica during the winter months is still a mystery. One theory is that they are following the availability of food, as the waters around Antarctica are rich in krill, squid, and fish. Another theory is that they are seeking out areas with fewer predators, as the harsh Antarctic environment makes it difficult for predators to survive. Additionally, it’s believed that the long days during the Antarctic summer provide more time for the terns to feed and rest, allowing them to build up the energy they need for their long journey back to the Arctic.

Feeding Behavior of Arctic Terns in Antarctica

Arctic terns in Antarctica feed mainly on krill, fish, and squid. They are highly skilled hunters, and they catch their prey by diving into the water from the air. They use their sharp bills and keen eyesight to locate their prey, and they are capable of catching fish that are larger than they are. They hunt alone or in small groups, and they are known to follow fishing boats to take advantage of their discarded catch.

Role of Antarctica in Arctic Tern’s Life Cycle

Antarctica plays a crucial role in the life cycle of Arctic terns. It is an essential wintering ground where they can rest, feed, and build up the energy they need for their long journey back to the Arctic. It’s also an important breeding ground for other bird species, such as penguins and albatrosses, which provide a rich source of food for the terns. The Antarctic environment is harsh, but it provides a unique set of conditions that are essential to the survival of the Arctic tern.

Adaptations of Arctic Terns to the Harsh Antarctic Environment

Arctic terns have several adaptations that enable them to survive in the harsh Antarctic environment. They have a thick layer of downy feathers that keeps them warm, even in sub-zero temperatures. They also have a highly efficient circulatory system that enables them to regulate their body temperature in extreme conditions. Additionally, they have a unique ability to extract fresh water from saltwater, which is crucial in an environment where fresh water is scarce.

Challenges Faced by Arctic Terns in Antarctica

Arctic terns face several challenges in Antarctica, including the harsh climate, predators, and competition for food. The cold temperatures and high winds can be challenging, especially during the winter months when the sun never rises. Additionally, they face competition for food from other bird species, such as penguins and albatrosses. Predators, such as skuas and gulls, also pose a threat, and terns must be constantly vigilant to avoid being attacked.

Conclusion: The Importance of Protecting the Arctic Tern’s Habitat.

The Arctic tern is an incredible bird with an extraordinary migration pattern that has fascinated scientists and bird enthusiasts for years. Their long-distance journey takes them to some of the most remote and inhospitable places on earth, including the Arctic and Antarctica. It’s essential to protect their habitats, both in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, to ensure their survival. The Arctic tern is a vital part of the ecosystem, and its continued presence is essential to maintaining the balance of the natural world.

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