25 May 2011
New research published in Royal Society journal Biology Letters reveals that great snipes (Gallinago media) are the long-distance champions of the animal kingdom, travelling more speedily over huge distances than any other known animal.
The wading bird – which breeds in Northern European and Russian marshes but migrates to Africa for the winter – was discovered to complete an remarkable transcontinental flight to reach its African wintering grounds, reaching ground speeds of up to 60 miles per hour and in one instance flying almost 4500 km in just 48 hours.
To put this into context, a commercial aeroplane flight from Northern Sweden to Central Africa typically takes around 22 hours. Even more extraordinary is the fact that unlike most airlines, the great snipe completes its journey with no stops whatsoever.
While extreme non-stop migrations have been observed in other birds, scientists previously thought that this only occurred where the birds were in a hurry to pass over inhospitable territory such as ice caps or desert. However, given that the great snipe passes plenty of suitable stopping places, the authors conclude that “some migratory birds are prepared to accept extreme costs of strenuous exercise and large fuel loads, even when stopover sites are available along the route and there is little tailwind assistance.”