A five-month-old bird set a world record by flying around 8,500 miles in only 11 days. The bar-tailed godwit began its marathon in Alaska on Oct. 13 and touched down in Tasmania, Australia, on Oct. 24. And to make the feat even more amazing is that scientists with the Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre believe its journey was non-stop.
“This will not be the first one to make this flight as godwits are frequent summer visitors to Tasmania and we are sure this one was with a group but it is the first time a tagged bird has flown between Alaska and Tasmania,” the organization wrote on Facebook.
Scientists tagged a group of birds ahead of their migration and tracked them with a 5G satellite. With the data, they know that the world-record holder dubbed 234684 flew at least 8,425 miles.
The bird took a route west of Hawaii and flew mostly over the open Pacific Ocean to reach its destination. According to Eric Woehler, an expert at Birdlife Tasmania, the flight path was incredibly risky.
“If a godwit lands on water, it’s dead,” he told ABC. ‘It doesn’t have the webbing in its feet, it has no way of getting off the water. So if it falls into the water from exhaustion, if bad weather forces it onto the ocean surface, that’s it.”
Because the bird didn’t stop for food or water while setting its world record, Woehler estimates it lost at least half of its body weight.
The Bird ‘Blew’ the Previous World Record Holder ‘Out of the Water’
Bar-tailed godwits have a unique talent that helps them make overseas trips, however. They are able to shrink and regrow their internal organs to make extra space for fat storage. They can absorb up to 25 percent of their livers, kidneys, and digestive tracts to prepare. When the birds land, the organs will reform.
Sean Dooley, of BirdLife Australia, told The Guardian that juvenile birds such as this one typically wait longer to migrate. The adults leave the Artic about six weeks earlier while the younger birds stick around and attempt to pack on more weight.
“That bird is likely to have been in a flock,” he added. “This record is for continuous flying and it’s just incredible,”
234684 flew over a few islands in Oceania, which would have given it a chance to eat and drink. But for some reason, it just kept flying.
By resisting the urge, the bird “blew” the previous world record holder “out of the water.” That bird, an adult male known as 4BBRW, took the title in 2021 when it flew 8,108 miles to Australia.