Animals -> Birds -> Shorebirds -> Terns


Cultures reported to have eaten tern include Hare (Sahtu), Inuit, Inupiat and Cree (Red Earth, James Bay and Mistissini) [1-8]. Most of these reports would have involved Arctic Terns, but the Red Earth Cree were likely to have eaten Common Terns. Wainwright Inupiat consumed Arctic Tern, but usually only as emergency food. They would lure the bird by imitating its call; sometimes a baited hook was used [9]. The Mistissini Cree reportedly plucked the feathers, singed off the small pinfeathers and gutted and hung terns from sticks for roasting by the fire [6]. Tern eggs were reportedly gathered and consumed by Labrador Inuit and Wainwright Inupiat [9, 10].


1.         Turner LM: Ethnology of The Ungava District Hudson Bay Territory. n/a: n/a; 1894.

2.         Hara HS: The Hare Indians and Their World. In. Ottawa: National Museums of Canada; 1980: 95-147.

3.         Elberg N, Hyman J, Hyman K, Salisbury RF: Not By Bread Alone: The Use of Subsistence Resources among James Bay Cree. In.; 1975.

4.         Labrador Inuit Association: Our Footprints Are Everywhere: Inuit Land Use and Occupancy in Labrador. Nain: Labrador Inuit Association; 1977.

5.         Meyer D: Appendix I: Plants, Animals and Climate; Appendix IV: Subsistence-Settlement Patterns. In: The Red Earth Crees, 1860-1960. Volume 1st edition, edn.: National Musem of Man Mercury Series; 1985: 175-185-200-223.

6.         Rogers ES: The Quest for Food and Furs: The Mistassini Cree, 1953-1954, vol. 1st edition. Ottawa: National Musems of Canada; 1973.

7.         Jenness.S.E: Arctic Odyssey: The Diary of Diamond Jenness, Ethnologist with the Canadian Arctic Expedition In Northern Alaska and Canada, 1913-1916. Hull, Quebec: Canadian Musem of Civilization; 1991.

8.         Vaughan R: Birds and Arctic peoples. In: In Search of Arctic Birds. edn. London: T & A D Poyser; 1992: 20-48.

9.         Nelson RK: Hunters of The Northern Ice. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press; 1969.

10.       Taylor JG: Labrador Eskimo Settlements of the Early Contact Period, vol. Series: Publications in Ethnology, No. 9. Ottawa: National Musems of Canada; 1974.

Terns are in the same family as gulls and are most often found flying or soaring above the water, feeding along shorelines, or swimming at the water surface. Like gulls, they have long pointed wings, webbed feet, and generally a black, gray, and white plumage. But terns are smaller and more slender than gulls, generally with an elongated forked tail and a straight pointed bill, most often reddish in colour [1]. North American terns include the Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea), with a more northern breeding distribution around the Arctic Ocean, [2] and the Common Tern (Sterna hirundo), with a more southern and widespread breeding distribution along the Atlantic coast and inland across most of southern Canada east of the Rocky Mountains [3]. They both migrate to distant southern wintering ranges, but Arctic Tern migration is among the most impressive of all birds, travelling over 40,000 km to reach the Antarctic pack ice. Common and Arctic terms are very similar in appearance, both weighing around 100 g and having a black cap, a white face, grayish plumage, and reddish bill, legs, and feet, but the Common Tern has a black bill tip and longer legs. They both feed mostly on fish, form monogamous pairs, and breed in colonies [2, 3].


1.         Harrison CJO: Bird families of the world. Oxford, England: Elsevier-Phaidon; 1978.

2.         Hatch JJ: Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2002.

3.         Nisbet IC: Common Tern (Sterna hirundo). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2002.


Distribution maps provided below, unless otherwise stated, were obtained from Birds of North America Online, maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and all pictures provided below were obtained from Encyclopedia of Life
Arctic Tern
© Jaroslav Koleček
Photographer: Jaroslav Koleček
Common Tern
Supplier: Wikimedia Commons
Photographer: Badjoby