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Younger godwit makes longest identified nonstop flight ever


A four-month-old Bar-tailed Godwit known as B6 set a new world record by completing a nonstop 11-day migration of 8,425 miles (13,558 km) from Alaska to Tasmania, Australia. This trip represents the longest documented nonstop flight by any animal!

A team of scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, the Max Planck Institute, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a study to track the migration of juvenile (hatch-year) Bar-tailed Godwits from breeding sites near Nome, Alaska. The study was established to better understand how the birds navigate their first migrations from Alaska to wintering sites. This work is part of a larger effort to understand the locations and times of the year where godwits face the greatest threats.

A different Bar-tailed Godwit, known as 4BBRW, previously held the nonstop flight record, which it set in each of the last two years. It flew 8,109 miles (13,050 km) from Alaska to New Zealand in 2021. In 2020, its route covered 7,987 miles (12,854 km).

Tracked by transmitter

After fatting up on the Kuskokwim Delta, B6 left Alaska on October 13 and arrived in Australia on October 24. The shorebird was tracked using a 5-gram solar-powered satellite transmitter that was attached to its rump. Scientists used a U.S. Geological Survey metal band and a uniquely coded alphanumeric leg flag to uniquely identify individual birds.

“They don’t land on the water. They don’t glide,” said Dan Ruthrauff, a U.S. Geological Survey research wildlife biologist who helped tag B6. “This is flapping flight for a week and a half. It’s crazy, and I think is just tangible enough that we can appreciate it and have our minds properly blown.”

A wing of the godwit B6 is extended. Photo by Dan Ruthrauff/U.S. Geological Survey

Bar-tailed Godwits that breed in Alaska annually conduct non-stop migrations between the 49th State and wintering sites in New Zealand and eastern Australia, but the movements of juvenile godwits on their first southbound migrations have never before been tracked.

Alaska is a critically important site for the world’s shorebirds. Alaska has an abundance of coastal ecosystems and food resources that provide important breeding and migratory stopover sites for shorebirds. Thirty-seven shorebird species regularly breed in Alaska and most of these species conduct impressive long-distance migrations. As their name implies, shorebirds are intimately linked to shorelines and wetlands, a fact that potentially heightens their vulnerability to climate-related effects attributable to rising seas and diminished wetland functions. Shorebirds rely on interconnected networks of functional ecosystems at sites that often are located thousands of miles apart around the world.

The focus of shorebird research at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Alaska Science Center is to help identify important breeding and migratory sites, and to investigate the causes of the declines in many shorebird populations. Information from these studies is guiding conservation efforts and helping scientists and conservation groups to better understand the effects of global-scale threats to shorebirds, including habitat modification and degradation, climate change, and the spread of infectious diseases.

Thanks to the USGS Alaska Science Center for providing this news.

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