Alaska Science Center

Aleutian Tern, Sterna aleutica

High-Priority Species List

Aleutian terns are a high priority species because virtually all birds breeding in Alaska migrate to Australasia via the East Asia Flyway. They winter along the coast and roost on beaches and estuaries along the western Pacific Ocean.
The Aleutian tern breeds only in Alaska and eastern Siberia, nesting coastally in dispersed colonies (North 1997). Their breeding range extends from southeast Alaska to the western Aleutian Islands and as for north as the Chukchi Sea. In Russia they breed in the Bering Sea, Sea of Okhotsk and the Kamchatka Peninsula. In winter all breeding birds appear to move south west along the Pacific coast of Asia to Japan and the Indonesian islands and as far as Java, Bali, and Sulawesi (Harrison 1983, Armstrong 1995, Hill and Bishop 1999, ASIS 2006). Little banding of this species has been done and therefore knowledge of winter distributions has been gathered from observations of birds. About 9,500 birds nest in Alaska, the largest colony of about 1,700 birds nest at Yakutat in the Gulf of Alaska (USFWS 2006).
No. of samples: Total 200 to 300 from Alaska.
Sampling locations: The primary locations are western Alaska and the Gulf of Alaska. Samples will be taken from Yakutat and Amchitka Island and perhaps Good News Bay and the Copper River Delta.
Sampling timeframe: During the early portion of the breeding season in May and June
Sample demographics: Adults will be sampled during summer.
Methods of capture: The sample goal of 200-300 can most easily be achieved through fecal sampling and/or live-trapping of birds at colonies or on-shore roost sites. Smaller numbers of samples could be obtained from lethal capture (~20-40 birds) if necessary.
Other targeted species: At the proposed primary sampling sites in the Aleutian Islands it will be possible to sample small to moderate numbers of Glaucous-winged Gulls and Common Eiders.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Migratory Bird Management
Contact: David Irons

Alaska Maritime NWR
Contact: Jeff Williams
Armstrong, R.H. 1995. Guide to the Birds of Alaska. Alaska Northwest Books, 4th Ed., Anchorage, Alaska.

ASIS. 2006. Alaska seabird information Series, Aleutian Tern. 2006. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Mgmt. Rep., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Anchorage, Alaska.

Hill, N.F. and D.K. Bishop. 1999. Possible Winter Quarters of the Aleutian Tern? Wilson Bull. 11l (4) 559-560.

Harrison, P. 1983. Seabirds an identification guide. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.

North, M.R. 1997. Aleutian Tern (Sterna aleutica). In The Birds of North America, No. 291 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and the American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2006. Beringian Seabird Colony Catalog -- computer database and Colony Status Record archives. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Management, Anchorage, Alaska.

Distribution map of Aleutian Tern

Ranking Score: 13.0

Asian H5N1 ranking criteria for Aleutian Tern, Sterna aleutica.

Total of partial
contact with Asia1
Contact with
known "hot spot"2
Habitat used in
Pop. in Alaska4
Can samples be
Winters in coastal areas of se Asia, Indonesia
No known use of AI-infected areas
Approximately 9,500
Location of breeding colonies known
Image of Aleutian Tern, photo by R. Gill