The remains of a far-travelled seabird found on a north east nature reserve have been confirmed as an Angus-born Arctic tern which has flown into the record books after a life of more than a million miles on the wing.
Ringed as a chick at Buddon Ness on the coast between Dundee and Arbroath, the tiny tern discovered at Scottish Natural Heritage’s Forvie reserve in Aberdeenshire was found to be almost 32-years-old to the day.
With an average life expectancy of just 13 years, the tern’s longevity has easily flown past that mark and the previous UK record-holder, recaptured on the Farne Islands in 2010, just over 30 years after being ringed as a chick.
Arctic terns are regarded among ornithologists as one of the most remarkable visitors to the nation’s shores and the culmination of an annual pole-to-pole migration by the bird means it may have covered close to 1,500,000 miles in its lifetime.
The flight of the tern is the longest known annual journey by any animal – by moving continually between Arctic summer and Antarctic summer, the birds see more daylight than any other creature on earth and clock up an astonishing 44,000 miles each year in the process.
Forvie reserve officer Daryl Short, who found the record-breaker, said: “It’s incredible to think that the bird I found flew the equivalent of to the moon and back, and then back to the moon and some way home again.
“Arctic terns are amazing animals. The birds are currently protecting their chicks at Forvie and other nature reserves around the country and they’re not afraid to give you a bump on the back of the head if you get too close to their nests.
“Unfortunately for them, terns are prey for some other birds, such as falcons and large gulls. So there was certainly an element of luck to this bird’s long life.”
Since leaving its nest near Carnoustie, the tern will have survived predators, cruel storms and food shortages to possibly parent well over 50 chicks.
“It is also likely to have visited more countries, more often, than any human ever has,” added Mr Short.
Stuart MacQuarrie, head of nature reserves for SNH, said: “This incredible little bird was first ringed on a Special Area of Conservation and found again 32 years later, not too far away, on one of our national nature reserves.
“As well as evidence that the bird regularly returned to this part of Scotland to rear its chicks, this shows the importance of our protected areas and nature reserves for wildlife.
“Scotland’s nature reserves are beautiful places for people to visit. They are also carefully managed for conservation and important places for research, making a real contribution to tackling biodiversity loss.
“Our reserves constantly surprise and delight in equal measure and this little bird captures something of what makes them so special.”