This species only lives at salt water, where it feeds on small fish and shrimps, mainly fishing in shallow waters. Breeding sites are mostly on predator-free island and islets, but sometimes also on the coast, in areas with sand and gravel with nests placed in no or only sparse and very short vegetation. A breeding site may include several different islands and islets over the course of years. Breeding may be in solitary pairs and in colonies from 2-3 and up to more than 100 pairs.

The Arctic tern is listed on Annex I of the Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC).