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Tiny wings fly for 2270 km non stop

01 April 2015

Title: Transoceanic migration by a 12g songbird

Authors: William V. DeLuca , Bradley K. Woodworth , Christopher C. Rimmer , Peter P. Marra , Philip D. Taylor , Kent P. McFarland , Stuart A. Mackenzie , D. Ryan Norris

Journal: Biology Letters

A study published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters today has tracked the blackpoll warbler as it makes a remarkable migration over the Atlantic. The tiny bird which weighs in at just 12g flies non-stop for 3 days in a migration which the scientists say is ‘one of the most amazing migratory feats on the planet’.

Many bird species make impressive migrations but scientists know surprisingly little about the routes small songbirds take on their migrations between seasons. The blackpoll warbler is one such song bird. It breeds in the boreal forest in North America and winters in northern South America.

In spring the blackpolls migrate northward overland through North America but during the autumn as they head south they are rarely spotted. Instead scientists think that when the birds head south to sunnier climbs in South America, they take off from North America and fly over the ocean in a single nonstop journey.

Scientists attached tiny backpacks with geolocators to wild warblers captured in Vermont and Nova Scotia and tracked their travels south. ‘Our data provide irrefutable evidence that blackpolls fitted with geolocators made non-stop flights over the Atlantic Ocean’ say the team. Depending on where they departed and arrived the flights the warblers took covered at least 2270km over water and lasted between 43 and 73 hours.

The team say the results show blackpolls undergo one of the longest distance non-stop overwater flights ever recorded for a migratory songbird. The extraordinary nature of this feat is underscored when their tiny size is considered, say the scientists.