Migration routes of the Arctic tern from the northernmost breeding areas in Svalbard

This project is focused on the migratory abilities of the Arctic terns (Sterna paradisaea) breeding on the archipelago Svalbard. The main aim is to reveal the autumn and spring migratory path of individuals from breeding sites on Svalbard. To achieve this task, we are planning to equip 30 Arctic terns with geolocators (small tracking device).

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Project type

  • field work
  • long-term monitoring


  • terrestrial biology

Project Keywords

  • biological classification / animals/vertebrates / birds
  • biological classification / protists
  • biosphere / zoology

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The Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea, syn. S. arctica) is a bird species with one of the most remarkable life strategies. Arctic tern breeds in the Northern hemisphere from the temperate zone to the High Arctic. At the end of the Arctic summer, Arctic terns undertake the world’s longest migration to their wintering areas in the Antarctic. In March, the return flight starts and with 80-90 % probability Arctic terns return to their previous breeding areas (Devlin et al. 2008). On our previous studies (RIS-IDs: 10034, 10363, and 10394), we have focused on the nesting behaviour and the nesting success of Arctic terns impacted by human presence within the breeding colony and by low/high predation pressure on Svalbard. The main objectives of this study are to reveal the migration route and wintering areas of the Arctic tern population and evaluate fitness of breeding terns with respect to different conditions in studied colonies: Longyearbyen versus Petuniabukta (human presence versus absence). To achieve these tasks, we are planning: (i) to equip terns with geolocators - In total 30 individuals of the Arctic tern from Longyearbyen colony; The geolocator (archival-type light-level logger) is a small device measuring ambient light levels to later calculate geographical location. Using light-level geolocators with a leg-ring mount (selected type/brand: Intigeo-W65A9-SEA/Migrate Technology Ltd.) we will be able to follow autumn and spring migration paths of individual Arctic terns; The reason why we have chosen the colony in Longyearbyen for geolocator mounting is because of higher chance of successful recapture of Arctic terns compared to the Petuniabukta colony; (ii) to assess their body condition – In total 30 Individuals from both colonies (Longyearbyen and Petuniabukta colony); The assessment of the body condition will be based on parasitological examination and morphological characterization of birds. The chosen birds will be captured by standard ornithological methods – tent-spring trap (we are fully experienced with this capturing method from our previous studies in Czech Republic). Individual birds will be put into ornithological bags for minimizing stress. No transportation of birds will take place. All procedures will be carried out in the field, the birds will be released on the capture site immediately after handling. We have gained and deepened our experience with handling this species while we carried out the previous project (NARA application ID: 6524). We can argue that we are able to capture, examine and release those species with the lowest disturbance and health risk. The study of migration routes of Arctic terns will bring insight into migration from the northernmost breeding areas of this species that has ever been tracked. Thus, the project has a great potential to discover and break the record of the longest animal migration ever recorded, potentially exceeding 100 000 km. The data obtained within this project will be important for understanding how birds adapt to the harsh, but rapidly changing climate of the polar regions. Obtained blood samples will be examined for parasites as well as used for DNA isolation and subsequent phylogenetic studies. Devlin, C.M., Diamond, A.W., Kress, S.W., Hall, C.S. and Welch, L., 2008. Breeding dispersal and survival of Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) nesting in the Gulf of Main. The Auk, 125(4), pp.850-858. Team members are authorized either to capturing and ringing of free-living birds in Czech Republic (licence numbers: V. Pavel – 960; T. Tyml – 1006; M. Briedis – 1186) or to manage, conduct and control experiments on animals according to Act No. 246/1992 Coll. (licence numbers: V. Pavel – CZ01953; T. Tyml – CZ02971). Handling of animals was approved by Norwegian Animal Research Authority (Forsøksdyrutvalget) – ID 12403; Application: Migration routes of the Arctic tern from the northernmost breeding areas on Svalbard; Case no. 17/72883.

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