Alaskan to New Zealand in 11 Days: 'Jet Fighter' Bar-Tailed Godwit Breaks Flying Record

A male bar-tailed godwit has set a new world record for avian non-stop flight, after tracking its route over 11 days from southwest Alaska to Auckland

The bar-tailed godwit, a large wader in the family Scolopacidae, has successfully completed a 12,000-kilometre non-stop round-the-world flight, stating from Alaska to New Zealand. The bird has created a new world record for avian non-stop flight, as the last time in 2007 a female bar-tailed godwit recorded flying 11,680 kilometers.

The bar-tailed godwit—whose overall population is decreasing but still known as 'least concerned' species—has the aerodynamic build like a 'jet fighter'. In the recent case, the bird set off from south-west Alaska on September 16 and then arrived in a bay close to New Zealand's Auckland within 11 days. It was found that the record-setting bird had flown at a speed of up to 55mph.

A Record-Breaking Flight

bar-tailed godwit
Bar-tailed godwit-- the 'Jet Fighter' Pixabay

The male bar-tailed godwit, known as 4BBRW—referred to double blue, red, and white rings set on its legs—had a 5gm satellite tag fixed on its lower back to track him.

Dr. Jesse Conklin who is a scientist with the Global Flyaway Network, a worldwide partnership between researchers who study epic migratory patterns, said that these birds are designed like a "jet fighter" as they have long, pointed wings along with a "sleek design which gives them a lot of aerodynamic potentials."

In 2019, scientists at the Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre, in Auckland, had caught and tagged the bird along with 20 others in late 2019. In Alaskan mudflats--from where the male bar-tailed godwit flew away—all the tagged birds had feasted for two months on clams and worms.

As per the scientists, the birds headed south over the Aleutian Islands and then moved towards the Pacific Ocean. They passed Hawaii and Fiji to reach the destination. Researchers said that the strong easterly winds along the way helped the birds to fly away fast and pushed them toward Australia.

Conklin said that these birds were flying over the open sea for several days and there was no land. Then the birds get to New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea—and there are lands—"we might be anthropomorphizing, but it really looks like they start spotting land and sort of think: 'Oh, I need to start veering or I will miss New Zealand'," said Conklin.

The Amazing Ability

The bar-tailed godwit
The bar-tailed godwit wikimedia commons

Using the satellite, the researchers recorded the point-to-point flight. The male bird, which now holds the record for the longest non-stop flight, weighs between 190 grams and 400 grams. While it can double in size before taking a long flight, the bird also has the ability to shrink its internal organs to avoid extra load, said scientists. Even though there is no proof, the researchers believe that the bar-tailed godwit does not sleep on its journey. As per Conklin, these birds have an incredibly efficient "fuel-to-energy rate."

However, there are other birds that have the ability to make similar-scale flights, but "there are not a whole load of places in the world where it is necessary," he said and added that it is not necessary that this is the only species which is capable of doing it but bar-tailed godwit "is the only bird that needs to do it."

The travel route over the pacific ocean functions like an 'ecological corridor' for these birds, but scientists fear that climate change could soon force them to change the route, as the strength and frequencies of the winds in that region have been on course of changing.

The dominant threat to this Western Alaskan subspecies is the loss or reduction of high tide roosting habitat and feeding habitat which affect its ability to build up the energy stores required for successful migration and breeding in New South Wales and as per its official status in Australia, the species is listed as 'vulnerable.'