Tiny Arctic bird migrates up to 9,000 miles for winter

February 15, 2012 

Northern wheatear

U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE PHOTO

A tiny songbird that summers in Arctic Alaska and Canada may be the farthest-migrating bird on Earth, Canadian researchers have found. The northern wheatear's annual migrations between the Arctic and sub-Saharan Africa can reach up to 9,000 miles and take months, reports LiveScience.

"This is the only known terrestrial bird that physically links the two radically different ecosystems of the Old World and the Arctic regions of the New World," said researcher Ryan Norris at the University of Guelph in Canada.

Until recently, details about songbird migration remained unknown because geolocators, which work by measuring light levels (and thus latitude and longitude), were too big or heavy to attach to birds weighing only 25 grams on average. Researchers looped new, 1.2-gram devices onto the legs of the birds to track them. ...

The investigators tagged 46 adult northern wheatears in the summer in the Arctic - 30 at Eagle Summit in Alaska and 16 at Baffin Island in northeastern Canada - and let them migrate to wherever they were going.

Read more at Live Science.

At UAF's Frontier Scientists blog, learn about what's thought to be the longest nonstop bird migration: the flight of bar-tailed godwits from Alaska to New Zealand. A video linked there describes how federal biologist Bob Gill proved the godwits' feat.

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