ID tips & tricks

Bird Watching (UK) - - May Id Challenge -

Long, black-tipped bill Longer neck, wings look set back Long wings, short tail Dark wing wedges Many bird­watch­ers are ‘brought up’ with the idea that Com­mon and Arc­tic Terns are pretty much in­sep­a­ra­ble in the field. This state of af­fairs was prop­a­gated by ear­lier field­guides, which of­ten ap­peared to use a copy and paste ap­proach to il­lus­trat­ing the two species. Some bird­watch­ers still con­fuse the two species, es­pe­cially early in the spring, when there are plenty of Com­mon Terns about and there is a sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion of the first Arc­tics. When a ‘real’ Arc­tic does ar­rive, the myth re­veals it­self. There enough dis­tin­guish­ing fea­tures of these two red-billed terns to make sep­a­rat­ing them rea­son­ably straight­for­ward, even at long range. Start­ing with struc­ture, Com­mon Terns are big­ger, more ro­bust look­ing birds. The bill and neck are sub­stan­tially longer and the wings seem­ingly set fur­ther back on the body, and the tail is shorter. Rel­a­tively del­i­cate Arc­tic Terns have short darker red bills, shorter necks and longer tails, mak­ing the wings look set fur­ther for­ward. The flight of Com­mon Terns is more pow­er­ful on more flex­i­ble, flicky wing beats, while Arc­tics look light and grace­ful, of­ten with the outer tail stream­ers ap­pear­ing sep­a­rate from the rest of the tail as they swoop in flight. In terms of pat­tern, Arc­tics are sub­tly paler birds, lack­ing dark smudg­ing in the wings, with a translu­cent look to the flight feath­ers and very neat dark edges on the trail­ing edge of the pri­mary feath­ers.

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