LyndaC's picture

Arctic tern with damaged beak

Observed: 14th June 2011 By: LyndaCLyndaC’s reputation in BirdsLyndaC’s reputation in Birds

Arctic tern on Farne Islands, with damaged upper mandible. The arctic terns here are well known for attacking visitors, some of whom wear hard hats or otherwise hold up other hard materials (e.g. walking poles) which the birds peck at. How likely is it that this bird damaged its beak whilst attacking a human visitor? Is anyone aware of any research that investigates the impact of Farne visitors on the birds?

Species interactions

No interactions present.


the naturalist man's picture

Damaged beak

It is possible, though it looks to be a very old injury and is more likely to have damaged it as the beak was developing - probably pecking at a hard stone; if you watch them on the Farnes they do this all the time, experimenting.

There is a tremendous amount of research into the interactions of birds and visitors , see the annual Farne Island published reports for more information. I used to take students over to the Farnes to study the effects of visitors. They showed, surprise, surprise, more birds demonstrated 'attack' behaviour when there were large numbers of visitors than when there were just the wardens and my students on the island.

However, long term studies have shown the birds that are most disturbed are the most successful; raising more fledged young, for example, the pairs nesting in and around the visitor centre courtyard. The theory is these are more protected from predators who are reluctant to come near the human areas. This greater protection has a cost, incubation takes longer, therefore, the birds bringing in food have to run the gauntlet of the gulls for a longer period.

As for identification, note the blood red beak and legs.

Graham Banwell

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LyndaC's picture


Thank you Graham. Very interesting reply. Do you happen to know where I could find the Farne Islands reports you refer to? I've tried searching online but not come up with anything.