Featherweight songbird is a long-distance champ

Feb 15, 2012
Handout photo from NASA shows a sunset over the Arctic. A tiny songbird weighing just two tablespoons of sugar migrates from the Arctic to Africa and back, a distance of up to 29,000 kilometres, scientists reported on Wednesday.

A tiny songbird weighing just two tablespoons of sugar migrates from the Arctic to Africa and back, a distance of up to 29,000 kilometres (18,000 miles), scientists reported on Wednesday.

The size of an undernourished sparrow, the northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) tips the scales at just 25 grammes (0.9 of an ounces).

But who tagged the tawny-and-white insectivore were stunned at its flight endurance.

They attached minute geolocators, each weighing just 1.2 grammes (0.04 of an ounce) to the legs of 46 wheatears in Alaska and on in northeastern Canada.

Graphic on the epic migration routes of the northtern wheateater from the Arctic to Africa, according to a tracking study published Wednesday in the journal Biology Letters.

The Alaskan birds spent the winter in Africa before returning back home, a journey of about 14,500 kms (9,000 miles) each way, in which they flew on average 290 kms (181 miles) a day.

They travelled over Siberia and across the Arabian desert, heading to Sudan, Uganda and Kenya, a trip that took about 91 days on the outward trip but 55 days for the return leg.

A tagged bird from Baffin Island flew over the North Atlantic, landed in Britain, travelled southwards across , the Mediterranean and Sahara to winter on the coast of Mauritania, , taking 26 days out and 55 days back for a trip of about 7,500 kms (4,700 miles).

"They are incredible migratory journeys, particularly for a bird this size," said Ryan Norris of the University of Guelph in Ontario.

"Think of something smaller than a robin but a little larger than a finch raising young in the Arctic tundra and then a few months later foraging for food in Africa for the winter."

The study appears on Wednesday in Biology Letters, a journal published by the Royal Society, Britain's de-facto academy of sciences.

Birds with larger wingspans such as the and are famous for their transcontinental migrations, but this study provides incontrovertible evidence that a songbird can do the same, say the scientists.

"Scaled for body size, this is one of the longest round-trip migratory journey of any bird in the world and raises questions about how a bird of this size is able to successfully undertake such physically demanding journeys twice a year, particularly for inexperienced juveniles migrating on their own."

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More information: Franz Bairlein, D. Ryan Norris, Rolf Nagel, Marc Bulte, Christian C. Voigt, James W. Fox, David J. T. Hussell and Heiko Schmaljohann, Cross-hemisphere migration of a 25 g songbird, Biology Letters, published 15 February 2012, doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.1223

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kevinrtrs
Feb 15, 2012
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kevinrtrs
Feb 15, 2012
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alfie_null
4 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2012
... the northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) tips the scales at just 25 grammes (0.9 of an ounces) ... They attached minute geolocators, each weighing just 1.2 grammes (0.04 of an ounce)

About a 5 percent weight increase. Imagine strapping on a laptop computer, then running a marathon.
Edelson_Natanel
not rated yet Feb 15, 2012
This EvolvingCreature must have been flying across this planet for a long time,.....
Immanuel K
4 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2012
The arctic tern with its 70,000 to 80,000 km annual migration is the real champ, but of course if you have decided to introduce boxing style weight classes the wheatear deserves a belt as well.
61SD
not rated yet Feb 15, 2012
I'm curious as to how many coconuts this tiny guy managed to carry to Britain on the return trip. Those horse hoof noises don't just make themselves.
bewertow
4 / 5 (4) Feb 15, 2012
Even more challenging will be to answer the obvious question:

Just how did this bird "evolve" such incredible abilities?

I notice that none of the researchers venture to answer that question, perhaps because it's firstly not of any help with the research and secondly even if they did attempt to answer it, they would simply be making wild guesses.


Reported for creationist trolling/spam. This article has nothing to do with your silly fairy tales. Keep your magical zombie god out of this.