Researchers were able to trace the 11-day 13.5k voyage from Alaska to Tasmania thanks to a GPS tag.
A new record for the longest single flight by a bird has been set; a wader flew nonstop from Alaska to Tasmania. The GPS tag and solar energy device on the bar-tailed godwit allowed researchers to track its movements.
According to Birdlife Tasmania, the five-month-old bird left southwest Alaska on October 13 and flew out across the Pacific, past the Aleutian Islands, and on to Japan. It veered south, crossing the world’s largest ocean. After circumnavigating Australia’s coast, the daring explorer proceeded to Anson’s Bay on Tasmania’s north-eastern tip. It took 11 days and nights to complete the journey. According to the Max Planck Institute, the godwit flew 13,560 kilometers.
Another bar-tailed godwit held the previous record for a nonstop flight. It flew from Alaska to New Zealand two years ago and then broke its own record the following year by flying even further. The fact that another such flight has occurred recently, and by a different bird, suggests that such feats are not uncommon in the Pacific Rim for bar-tailed godwits.
We don’t know the new record-holder’s gender, but how did this avian Charles Lindberg or Amelia Earhart carry enough fuel for such a long flight? It appears that godwits accomplish this by metabolizing all of the muscles that are not used when flying. As a result, the bird loses weight as it travels. The voyager may have lost half of its body weight by the end of its ordeal.
Godwits, while numerous in Irish estuaries in winter, are less widely recognized in the United States, at least in comparison to their larger distant relative, the curlew. This appears strange because the thin medium-sized wader with a very long slightly upturned bill is quite attractive. The black-tailed godwit is the more glamorous of the two godwit species that winter in Ireland. It’s taller and more colorfully marked than its far more daring cousin, the bar-tailed.
Perhaps the ‘half- curlew’s’ anonymity stems from its unusual moniker. ‘God wit’ means ‘excellent creature,’ as in the ‘daintiest meal in England.’ A group of black-tailed godwits is referred to as a ‘godliness,’ whereas a group of bar-tails is referred to as a ‘ungodliness.’ Curlews call their names, while godwits, who are usually mute outside of the breeding season, do not.
Our bartenders, like their American counterparts, make excellent travelers. They do not breed in Ireland, but those from Scandinavia, Finland, and Siberia east to the Taymyr Peninsula migrate down the European coast, stopping at traditional locations like Dundalk Bay to rest and refuel before continuing south. Some make it to the Cape of Good Hope.
One ringed at Lough Beg in 1988 was in Guinea-Bissau in March 1993, according to Pat Smiddy’s Birds of County Cork. Most of these visitors leave our shores, but some stay throughout the winter.
Godwit mysteries abound. The Migration Atlas reports that approximately 70% of the bar-tails caught by ringers in the Moray Firth are males. Females also spend the winter further south in Africa than males.