Bar-tailed godwit flies more than 12,000km from Alaska to New Zealand in 11 days.
A bird described as having the aerodynamic styling of a “jet fighter” has been tracked flying more than 12,000km (7,500 miles) from Alaska to New Zealand, setting a new world record for avian non-stop flight. What's even more remarkable about this is that practically the entire journey is over water.
The bar-tailed godwit set off from the mudflats in south-west Alaska on 16 September, where it had been feeding on clams and worms for two months, and arrived in a bay near Auckland 11 days later, having flown at speeds of up to 55mph. It is not certain but it is believed the birds do not sleep on the journey during which they flap their wings most of the time.
The male bar-tailed godwit, whose standard weight is between 190gm and 400gm, can double in size before a long flight but is also, remarkably, able to shrink its internal organs to lighten the load.
Dr Jesse Conklin, from the Global Flyway Network, a consortium of scientists studying epic migratory journeys, said: “They seem to have some capability of knowing where they are on the globe. We can’t really explain it but they seem to have an onboard map. They are flying over open ocean for days and days in the mid-Pacific; there is no land at all."
“They have an incredibly efficient fuel-to-energy rate,” Conklin said. “They have a lot of things going for them. They are designed like a jet fighter. Long, pointed wings and a really sleek design which gives them a lot of aerodynamic potential.”
Scientists with the Global Flyway Network believe the route across the Pacific functions as an “ecological corridor” rather than a barrier to the birds; providing a wind-assisted passage relatively free of the risks of disease and predators.
“There are other birds that make similar-scale flights of say 10,000km but there are not a whole load of places in the world where it is necessary,” Conklin said. “So it is not necessarily that this is the only bird capable of it - but it is the only bird that needs to do it.”