Bird Sets Record for Nonstop 13,560km Flight

What were you doing on Oct. 13? Did you consider setting off on an uninterrupted 13,560-kilometre journey from one tip of the planet to the other?

Because that’s what a bar-tailed godwit known as 234684 decided to do. The juvenile Limosa lapponica made the migration from Alaska to Ansons Bay in northeast Tasmania in 11 days and 1 hour — without ever touching the ground.

godwit's migration map

 

 

The accomplishment smashes the continuous flight record held by another bar-tailed godwit by about 500km. That bird is actually a two-time consecutive record-holder, with flights clocking in at around 12,000km (2020) and 13,000km (2021), according to The Guardian.

ExplorersWeb was unable to reach the godwit for comment on his lost record.

Tracking bird flight with 5G

As for the new record holder, 234684’s route took him west of Hawaii and flapping over the island nations of Kirbati and Vanuatu before sliding into the gap between Australia and New Zealand. The enterprising avian touched down in Tasmania on Oct. 25.

graphic: Google Earth, ExplorersWeb

 

Scientists tracked the bird via a small 5G satellite tag placed unobtrusively on its lower back. Much like human records, it’s not so much who sets the record as who is seen doing it.

a bar tailed godwit standing in the sand

A bar-tailed godwit takes a well-deserved break from flying. Photo: Shutterstock

 

“That bird is likely to have been in a flock. This record is for continuous flying and it’s just incredible,” said Sean Dooley of BirdLife Australia told The Guardian.

“The most amazing thing is that juveniles migrate separately from adults. Adults take off from the Arctic sometimes up to six weeks earlier.”

Fattening up

How are bar-tailed godwits able to fly such long distances without touching down? It’s all about fattening up for the journey, plus a nifty evolutionary trick that allows them to shrink their organs to make room for more fat, according to Dooley.

But bar-tailed godwits aren’t the only long-haul flyers in the animal kingdom. Arctic terns regularly migrate up to 19,000km and beyond, giving them the longest migration pattern of any animal, according to Audubon. However, they land occasionally during their mega-flights.

an arctic tern

An arctic tern. Photo: Shutterstock

 

Another winged champion worth mentioning is the bar-headed goose, which makes up in height what it lacks in distance. Bar-headed geese migrate over the Himalaya twice a year, flying over passes in excess of 7,000m.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew's essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals. You can find more of his work at www.andrewmarshallimages.com, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).