Once ready, the Arctic tern bird begins its arduous journey, starting in Northumberland and flying down through Britain to either the African or Brazilian coasts, returning in an ‘S’-shaped path up the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, having flown about 44,000 miles.
Like many migratory birds, Arctic terns have an instinct about where to go, even though they have never traced such a path before. This intriguing feature of the avian world is a question that has been posed throughout history, and recent studies suggest a number of techniques for navigating long migratory journeys. The three key “techniques” are derived from the interpretation and use of the sun, the stars and the Earth’s magnetic field – the Robin, for instance, uses its right eye for detecting magnetic fields for navigation. Some birds simply have the basic DNA for flight, yet learn their flight paths from older birds.
With the Arctic tern being a seabird, it is interesting to note how such a bird can navigate what could be considered a barren and featureless environment. For many seabirds, direction is sought through smell.