In the Arctic or sub-Arctic there are some birds that become aggressive when threatened near their nesting grounds. The majority of these species are seasonal residents of the bountiful feeding areas around the coastal lowlands. Churchill’s bountiful feeding grounds attract over 200 bird species during the spring and Summer. The Arctic tern is the king of the Arctic air…and for that matter all the air between the migration path pole to pole.

Arctic tern above the Hudson Bay in Churchill,Manitoba.

Arctic tern hovering above the nesting grounds. Rhonda Reid photo.

Arctic terns are notorious for pursuing capelin or other small fish stirred up by pods of beluga whales in the Churchill River or Hudson Bay. Their darting, aggressive behavior evokes the urgency of their mission to gain sustenance in the short summer feeding window. After a trip from nearly pole to pole of 35,000 km these birds really don’t have a pause phase. With lifetime accumulation of close to three million kilometers of flight, the life of an arctic tern is surely one of the highest paced of all living organisms. The majority of their lives is spent in the air.

Arctic terns also vehemently protect their nesting grounds which are usually along beaches in the strewn rocks and sand and nestled in the sea grass or tundra. I have personally witnessed near-attacks as well as direct hits on myself and Natural Habitat travelers who wandered too close to the nests. One such strike was to the forehead of a guest posing for a photograph taking the hit from a arrow-like beak right in the forehead. A small stream of blood symbolized the intent of these strong-willed birds. Although at the time the wound caused jaws to drop, the end result was constant laughs throughout the trip within the group. No stitches required!

Arctic tern flying with fish in its beak

Arctic tern with capelin in beak. Warwick Sloss photo.

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