Shorebirds embody the word “superlative” in almost every way. As a species, they make some of the toughest and longest distance migrations in the world. And now, a new official record for marathon non-stop flight has been set by a satellite tagged Bar-tailed Godwit who recently made a 12,000+ km (7,500 miles) migration with a small flock from their breeding grounds in Alaska over open water to New Zealand where they arrived in their favorite wetland….11 days later. No eating, no sleeping , just flying non-stop for 224 hours and 7,500 miles, clocking about 55 KPH (33 MPH).
How do they do this…and why?
The “why” may be easier to get your arms around than the “how”. But these birds do this treacherous and stunningly long overwater flight because the wetlands they like for the winter are near Auckland, NZ. In March, they will make the return trip by first flying to the Yellow Sea in China where they will fuel up and take off from there northeast to breed in Alaska. Some scientists believe the flightpath they take through the middle of the Pacific may even be a safe zone for them with few predators and disease, and generally good winds aloft.
The “how” is through aerodynamic design (godwits are built like fighter jets) – they are super efficient flyers. Plus prior to taking off for this long flight, they will more than double their body weight – from just under 7 ounces to over a pound – burning that fat off in flight. They also have the ability to shrink some of their internal organs to make their body weight lighter.
Godwits are impressive no matter how you think about it!
Get the full story from The Guardian.
Bar-tailed Godwit; Photo Credit: Juan Carlos Martinez Salvadores/Alamy