Alaska-Australia flight could put bird in record book: NPR

Alaska-Australia flight could put bird in record book: NPR
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Bar-tailed goddesses stand on the beach of Marion Bay in Tasmania, Australia. 17, 2018.

EJ Woehler/AP

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EJ Woehler/AP

Bar-tailed goddesses stand on the beach of Marion Bay in Tasmania, Australia. 17, 2018.

EJ Woehler/AP

CANBERRA, Australia – A young stick-tailed god flew at least 13,560 kilometers (8,435 miles) from Alaska to Tasmania, Australia, setting a nonstop distance record for migratory birds, an ornithologist said Friday.

Birdlife Tasmanian collector Eric Woehler said the bird was tagged in Alaska during the Northern Hemisphere summer with a tracking GPS chip and small solar panel that allowed an international research team to track its first annual migration across the Pacific Ocean. Because the bird was so young, its gender was unknown.

At about five months old, she left southwestern Alaska in the Yuko-Kuskokwim Delta in October. On October 13, and 11 days later, it landed at Ansons Bay on the island at the northeastern tip of Tasmania. 24, according to data from Germany’s Max Plank Institute of Ornithology. Research has not yet been published or peer-reviewed.

According to a map published by New Zealand’s Pukoro Miranda Shorebird Centre, the bird began on a southwestern course towards Japan, then turned southeast via Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

The bird was heading southwest again as it flew over or near Kiribati and New Caledonia, then crossed the Australian mainland and turned directly west for Tasmania, Australia’s southernmost state. The satellite track showed it traveled 13,560 kilometers (8,435 miles) without stopping.

“We still don’t know if this was an accident, if this bird went missing, or if this is part of a normal migration pattern for the species,” said Woehler, who is part of the research project.

Guinness World Records lists a bird’s longest recorded migration from Alaska to New Zealand by a satellite-tagged male stick-tailed god, 12,200 km (7,580 miles) without stopping for food or rest.

This flight was recorded in 2020 as part of the same ten-year research project involving China’s Fudan University, New Zealand’s Massey University and the Global Flyway Network.

The same bird broke its own record, flying 13,000 kilometers (8,100 miles) on its next migration last year, the researchers say. However, Guinness has not yet acknowledged this success.

Woehler said researchers don’t know whether the last known bird, with satellite tag 234684, flew alone or as part of a flock.

“There are so few birds tagged, we don’t know how representative this event is,” Woehler said.

“Half of the birds migrating from Alaska may come directly to Tasmania instead of New Zealand, or it may be 1%, or this may be the first thing to happen,” he added.

Adult birds leave Alaska earlier than juveniles, so the tagged bird is less likely to follow more experienced travelers south, Woehler said.

Woehler hopes to see the bird when wet weather improves in a remote corner of Tasmania, where it will fatten up as it has lost half its body weight on its journey.

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