Breeding Bird Atlas 2 Species Accounts
- Very local and strongly declining
- Conservation action urgent
- Species of Special Concern
The Arctic Tern may be the world's most celebrated long-distance migrant. Every year, this species flies from its breeding grounds in the Arctic to its wintering grounds in the Antarctic and back, a round-trip of roughly 25,000 miles. This incredible journey allows the Arctic Tern to live in an “endless summer,” and it possibly experiences more hours of daylight every year than any other bird species. Massachusetts represents the southern edge of the breeding range for this feisty species, and those few individuals that breed in the Bay State are state listed as a Species of Special Concern.
Historic StatusAs guns blazed on Muskeget Island during the heyday of the millinery trade, the Arctic Tern soon fell prey to fashion. Killed indiscriminately to lend its plumage to ladies’ hats, the species reached near extirpation by the late 1800s, as approximately 40,000 terns of various species were shot on this one island in a single year. By the 1920s, with legal protection standing behind it, the Arctic Tern seemed to be making a comeback. By World War II, 300 to 400 pairs nested on sandy beaches in the state, from Cape Cod to Plymouth to Nomans Land. Unfortunately, the concurrent increase in the numbers of large, predatory gulls soon spelled their impending doom. Undoubtedly, the species benefited from the protection of coastal colonies, but even when spared the depredations of eggers and plume hunters, this species has never been a widespread breeder in Massachusetts.
Atlas 1 DistributionIn Atlas 1, Arctic Terns were found in relatively small numbers amidst Common Terns and Least Terns at large colonies on protected beaches and islands. Plymouth Beach represented the Coastal Plain’s only record, as well as the only one outside the Cape and Islands region. Most of the Arctic Tern’s breeding population was located in 13 occupied blocks, many of which were scattered between Monomoy, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and the Elizabeth Islands. Additionally, each of these blocks accounted for only a relatively small number of breeding pairs.
Atlas 2 Distribution and ChangeThe Arctic Tern has currently been reduced to as few as 2 breeding pairs in Massachusetts, 1 of which is a hybrid pair with a Common Tern. While they are not yet completely extirpated from the state, that day is likely drawing very near
Atlas 1 Map
Atlas 2 Map
Atlas Change Map
|Atlas 1||Atlas 2||Change|
|Ecoregion||# Blocks||% Blocks||% of Range||# Blocks||% Blocks||% of Range||Change in # Blocks||Change in % Blocks|
|Marble Valleys/Housatonic Valley||0||0.0||0.0||0||0.0||0.0||0||0.0|
|Lower Berkshire Hills||0||0.0||0.0||0||0.0||0.0||0||0.0|
|Connecticut River Valley||0||0.0||0.0||0||0.0||0.0||0||0.0|
|Lower Worcester Plateau||0||0.0||0.0||0||0.0||0.0||0||0.0|
|S. New England Coastal Plains and Hills||1||0.4||7.1||0||0.0||0.0||-1||-0.4|
|Bristol and Narragansett Lowlands||0||0.0||0.0||0||0.0||0.0||0||0.0|
|Cape Cod and Islands||13||9.6||92.9||2||1.4||100.0||-10||-8.3|