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Terns and Their Lifestyle

tern-sitting-on-her-eggs image
Terns usually lay 1-3 eggs.

Terns are seabirds that are known for their graceful flight and distinctive appearance. They have long, pointed wings and forked tails, which allow them to maneuver quickly and efficiently through the air. Terns are also known for their migratory behavior, as they travel long distances each year to breed and feed.

They are highly skilled hunters, diving into the water to catch fish and other small marine creatures. Terns play an important role in coastal ecosystems, helping to maintain the balance of marine populations.

Terns Facts For Kids

  • Terns are seabirds with pointed wings.
  • Known for long migration distances.
  • They have forked tails.
  • Feed primarily on fish.
  • Nest on shores and islands.
  • Can hover before diving for prey.
  • Arctic terns see two summers yearly.
  • Have a sharp, high-pitched call.
  • Often mistaken for seagulls.
  • They’re graceful, agile fliers.


Kids find the species of seabirds known as terns particularly intriguing due to their unique characteristics and behaviors. These birds are celebrated for their extreme migratory patterns, with some species like the Arctic Tern covering an astonishing 25,000 miles annually, journeying from the Arctic to the Antarctic and vice versa.

Besides their remarkable migratory habits, terns are exceptional divers, frequently seen plunging into water bodies to hunt their primary prey, fish and invertebrates. Their sleek bodies, forked tails, and sharp beaks make them easily identifiable.

Terns are mostly coastal birds, but their impressive adaptability allows them to inhabit varied environments, from islands and marshes to occasionally inland regions. The combination of their intriguing life cycle, unique hunting techniques, and adaptability make the study of terns a thrilling adventure for kids learning about seabirds.

Coastal Birds

Terns, coastal birds characterized by their sleek bodies, forked tails, and pointed wings, are a captivating topic of interest for children due to their unique attributes and behaviors. These attributes include their remarkable diving skills, where they swoop into the water from great heights to catch fish, and their long-distance migratory habits, with some species traveling thousands of miles from their breeding grounds to seek warmer climates during winter.

Another intriguing characteristic is their monogamous tendencies, where both parents share the duty of incubating their eggs and feeding their young. These fascinating characteristics and behaviors make studying terns an exciting venture for children learning about coastal bird species.

Bird Migration

Terns, the captivating avian species celebrated for their extraordinary migration capacities, hold the record for the most extensive yearly migration in the animal kingdom. For example, the Arctic Tern undertakes an impressive 25,000-mile journey from the Arctic to the Antarctic and vice versa each year.

Over their lifespan, these awe-inspiring birds can traverse a distance equivalent to a round trip to the moon three times! This significant migration is vital for their survival, as the change to warmer climates is necessary during winter. Terns’ resilience and determination serve as an inspiring symbol of the importance of perseverance for children.

Avian Behavior

Terns, fascinating avian species with unique behaviors, provide an intriguing learning subject for children. Known for their extraordinary long-distance migrations, some terns cover over 25,000 miles each year traveling from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back.

They also captivate with their exceptional fishing abilities, hovering above water to spot fish before diving in to catch their prey. Terns further exhibit complex social behaviors, from intricate courtship rituals like the male presenting a fish to the female, to nesting in colonies and cooperatively ‘mobbing’ predators to protect their nests.

Studying these birds can offer children valuable insights into the diverse and multifaceted world of bird behavior.

Bird Conservation

Terns, fascinating birds known for their incredible long-distance migrations, play a critical role in maintaining ecological balance within their habitats and serve as a captivating example of nature’s endurance and adaptability for kids. However, they face significant threats such as habitat loss and pollution, emphasizing the urgency of bird conservation efforts for their survival.

Such conservation programs focus on safeguarding their breeding grounds, minimizing human disturbances, and ensuring food availability. Children can also engage in these crucial efforts by familiarizing themselves with terns, spreading awareness about their predicament, and participating in local bird-watching groups.

This not only expands their knowledge about nature and these elegant birds but also instills in them the vital importance of preserving biodiversity.


Ornithology, an intriguing branch of science dedicated to bird study, unveils captivating insights about terns, a group of seabirds that children would find fascinating. Terns, recognized globally for their adept flight abilities and exceptional migrations, are a diverse group with around 44 recognized species scattered across the globe.

One extraordinary species, the Arctic Tern, undertakes the most extensive migratory journey of all birds, a round trip from the Arctic to the Antarctic surpassing 20,000 miles annually! Their slender bodies, forked tails, and sharp wings enhance their flying skills, enabling them to hover, dive, and even seize prey mid-air.

These birds predominantly feed on fish and invertebrates and are renowned for their loud, piercing calls, which they utilize to defend their nests. Through the study of these incredible birds, ornithology illuminates the remarkable beauty and variety of life.

Tern Species

Worldwide, there are over 40 diverse species of terns that each exhibit their own unique characteristics. Despite variations in size and color, all tern species share common features such as slender bodies, pointed wings, and deeply forked tails, lending them an elegant aesthetic.

Some species are particularly noteworthy; the Arctic Tern is renowned for its incredible annual migration from the Arctic to the Antarctic, while the Fairy Tern is admired for its stunning white plumage.

The Caspian Tern, the largest of all tern species, stands out with its vibrant red-orange beak. Each species, despite their differences, excel as fliers and fishers, making terns an intriguing topic for budding nature enthusiasts.


Terns, the fascinating members of the waterfowl family, captivate children with their intriguing characteristics and behaviors. These birds demonstrate remarkable migratory patterns, with some species making an annual round trip from the Arctic to the Antarctic, a journey equivalent to circumnavigating the Earth more than three times.

Their adept swimming skills and diet, largely comprised of fish and invertebrates, make them efficient underwater hunters.

Their unique physical features, like sharp beaks and long, slender wings, augment their hunting agility and flight strength. Hence, Terns brilliantly illustrates the astounding diversity and incredible wildlife inhabiting our water bodies.

Beach Nesting Birds

Terns, intriguing members of the beach-nesting birds category, are distinguished by their slender bodies, pointed wings, and forked tails that enable them to be nimble flyers. Often found on coastlines, they lay their eggs on sand or rocky surfaces, displaying exceptional parental instincts by fiercely protecting their nests from predators.

In contrast to many bird species, terns showcase a distinct fishing technique, diving into water to snatch their prey. As migratory creatures, they cover thousands of miles for breeding and feeding purposes. Their survival is critical as they serve as significant indicators of coastal ecosystem health, underlining the importance of their protection.

Tern Habitats

Terns, fascinating birds celebrated for their impressive migration patterns, primarily inhabit coastal regions such as sandy beaches, rocky coastlines, and marshes, but are also known to thrive in tundra regions during breeding seasons, particularly species like the Arctic Tern.

Their penchant for open areas with easy water access enables them to effectively spot and catch their prey. Some species have evolved to inhabit islands as a predator avoidance strategy. Terns, known for their communal living, often inhabit large colonies providing collective protection from predators.

Despite their coastal preference, they exhibit impressive adaptability with some species thriving in urban settings, comfortably nesting on rooftops and other man-made structures.

Three Terns Standing Side by Side Image - Science for Kids All About Terns
All About Terns: They are usually white with gray markings, a black head and a forked tail.

Terns eat fish or shellfish and must live near a lake, river, ocean or pond. These graceful birds fly above the water, searching for dinner. When a tern spots a fish, it swoops down under the water and comes up with a fish in its mouth. Dinner is served!

Tern Flying Above Water Image
These graceful birds fly above the water, searching for dinner.

Fun Facts about Terns for Kids

  • Terns are usually white with gray markings, a black head and a forked tail.
  • Terns can live 34 years or longer.
  • Terns make nests on the ground or in wooded areas or rocky beaches. Sometimes their nests are washed away by coastal storms.
  • Terns can drink sea water, which is salty.
Terns Migrating in the Arctic Image
Almost all terns migrate, and the Arctic tern migrates every year from the Arctic to the Antarctica –a 25,000 mile trip, one way!

Tern Vocabulary

  1. Frequent: often
  2. Migrate: temporarily move
  3. Shellfish: fish with shells, such as clams or mussels
  4. Graceful: smooth, elegant
  5. Coastal: near the coast
Tern Sitting on her Eggs Image
Terns usually lay 1-3 eggs.

Learn More All About Terns

Observe how terns nest in this video:

A video documentary of terns nesting.

Tern Q&A

Question: How many eggs do terns usually lay?

Answer: Between one and three.


Question: Is migrating dangerous?

Answer: Terns migrate in search of warmer weather and more food, but migrating is both tiring and dangerous. Some terns die before the trip is over.


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