The Arctic tern’s travels from its Arctic breeding grounds to its wintering grounds off of Antarctica may cover 25,000 miles and is the farthest yearly journey of any bird.

When you hear about the great journeys undertaken by some of nature’s smallest creatures, you can’t help but feel inspired to step into adventures of your own that may be outside your comfort zone. And no odyssey is greater than that of the Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea).

Weighing only 3.2 to 4.2 ounces, Arctic terns travel more than 50,000 miles, from pole to pole and back again, every year. In fact, the Arctic tern sees more of our planet—and more daylight—than any other creature on Earth.

In order to document this feat, Carsten Egevang, a researcher at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, fitted 50 Arctic terns on Sand Island, off Greenland’s coast, with geolocators. He waited a year; and when the birds returned, he attempted to find the same Arctic terns he’d banded amid a thousand breeding pairs in the Greenland wilderness. He recovered 10.


Arctic Terns breed in treeless areas with little to no ground cover, in open boreal forests, and on small islands and barrier beaches along the northern Atlantic Coast. They tend to migrate offshore, although some individuals may migrate overland.

I first wrote about the Arctic tern’s incredible migration in this column in 2011. Today, however, you can see the 10, tagged birds’ individual journeys on a map created by Google Earth. Watch the short, six-minute video below.

Egevang’s research not only serves to record the Arctic tern’s annual adventures, but points out the importance of what are called “hot spots” in the ocean: places that are especially rich in food that are not only essential for Arctic terns and other seabirds, but for marine mammals, as well. This knowledge can help us decide which parts of the ocean are especially in need of conservation efforts and vigilance.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,