Miniaturisation of technology is enabling us to gain insights into the lives of animals that could not have been imagined just a decade or two ago. Radio-tags, which a generation ago could be used only on large-bodied birds, are now used on hawkmoths in central Europe, with researchers using a plane to follow the insects for up to 50 miles into the Alps. Ornithological researchers use several different types of radio and satellite tags which, combined with solar-cells rather than batteries, enables birds to be tracked across the globe.
Last month, the Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre in New Zealand tracked a young Bar-tailed Godwit on its autumn migration. It left the shores of Bering Strait in Alaska on 13 October and flew a minimum of 8,475 miles in 11 days and one hour. To Australia. Without stopping, so far as the researchers can tell. A Boeing 777 is capable of just 80 more miles on a full tank of fuel.
Crossing the International Dateline southwest of Hawaii, it flew close to Kiribati and Tuvalu, then over Vanuatu and New Caledonia. It continued south into the Tasman Sea before making a sharp right turn to land in Anson’s Bay, in northeast Tasmania, on 24 October.
It’s a record non-stop flight for any shorebird, more than 300 miles more than another tagged Bar-tailed Godwit that landed on the Australian mainland in 2021. Of course, it’s only thanks to the technology that we know of its travels, but it more than likely travelled with several others. Favourable weather conditions enabled it to average 32mph on a journey equivalent to Llandudno from Papua New Guinea.
That is 32mph for more than 11 days without a break to eat or drink, less than five months after the bird hatched from a 39g egg, around the size of a small hen’s egg. Wow!
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