Thursday, 23 Oct, 2008 Environment

Bar-tailed Godwit Becomes a New Bird Record-Holder


A new study reported, the record for the longest nonstop bird flight has been broken. A bar-tailed godwit dubbed "E7" flew 7,257 miles across the Pacific Ocean without intermission. The previous record belonged to a Far-Eastern curlew, which flew 4,038 miles nonstop.

It is quite surprising that the bird didn't even glide.

"Bar-tailed godwits use forward flapping flight and seldom ever glide," lead author Robert Gill, Jr., told Discovery News. This phenomenon can be explained by the fact that continuous wing-flapping helps birds to preserve their energy.

Robert Gill and his team followed migrations of bar-tailed godwits from their summer breeding places in the western Alaska tundra to New Zealand where they remain till the next year. In order to track these birds scientists had to implant females with transmitters, while males, which are generally smaller, were supplied with external transmitters. It is interesting to note that these migrating flights continued between 5 and 9.4 days.

According to Proceedings of the Royal Society B oceans, mountain ranges, deserts, ice fields and other open territories do not always present obstacles for bird migration as it had been considered before. On the contrary, they might offer convenient and smooth air-routes. During a flight the birds encounter few predators and are safe from different infestations that take place on earth.

Flights across the Pacific Ocean are preferred by most bar-tailed godwits, but the birds have to prepare a fuel supply for such a long journey. So they consume plenty of tiny clams to store body fat.

"Their bodies can consist of 55 percent fat at this time," said Gill. However, it doesn't spoil their airplane-like shape.

However, both Gill and Rob Schuckard, a team leader at the Ornithological Society of New Zealand feel concern about the godwit's future. The number of birds that flew from the north to the south dropped from 155,000 to 70,000 since 1990s. As Gill supposes, the main cause of this problem is habitat loss. However, the role of climate change can not be underestimated. If airflow direction changes, the birds might benefit from tailwinds, but such shifts may also cause greater headwinds, which will postpone their migration.

Gill hopes to continue his investigation of bar-tailed godwits in order to study the effect of climate change on these species and to learn more about their efficient metabolism.

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Posted by sharaeff

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