Godwit Continues to Rack up Air-miles

Bar-tailed Godwit: Over a seven-month-long period the single bird clocked up over 18,000 miles (29,000 km) (photo: Matt Latham).

E7, the Bar-tailed Godwit made famous for setting a record for long-distance non-stop flight, has broken its own record on the return flight from Alaska to New Zealand, satellite tracking studies have confirmed.

Over a seven-month-long period the single bird clocked up over 18,000-miles (29,000 km), flying from New Zealand, to China, then over to Alaska to breed, then back to New Zealand. The record-breaking last leg of E7's journey involved a non-stop flight over the Pacific of more than eight days and covering a distance of 11,600 kilometres. By way of comparison with humans, Guinness World Records earlier this year announced the record for running around the world: it took 2,062 days.

"Godwits do not become adults until their 3rd or 4th year and many live beyond 20 years of age. If 18,000 miles is an average annual flight distance, then an adult godwit would fly some 300,000 miles in a lifetime," said the US Geological Survey in a statement.

The study is showing conservationists the value of satellite tracking studies, and also highlights how vulnerable these migratory species are to global-scale threats.

"The Bar-tailed Godwit is one example among hundreds of migratory bird species which undertake awe-inspiring journeys every year," said Dr Vicky Jones, BirdLife's Global Flyways Officer. "Migrant birds rely on chains of traditional stop-over sites at which they can re-fuel and rest before embarking on the next leg of their journey. Globally, these sites are being lost or degraded at an alarming rate, destroying vital links in the chain and causing populations of many migratory bird species to decline,"

Bar-tailed Godwits alone have been linked to 20 possible countries during north and south migrations. Since 2006 the satellite-tagged Godwits in this study have stopped in 11 countries.

"While every country has a responsibility to afford these amazing species safe passage within their borders, we now recognise that the future of these global voyagers can only be secured by effective action throughout their flyways," said Dr Jones. "Trans-boundary cooperation is key."

E7 received a rapturous response on returning to New Zealand: "Media coverage of the arrival of E7 in New Zealand has helped bring the magic of bird migration to people around the world," commented Michael Szabo of Forest and Bird (BirdLife in New Zealand).

The Bar-tailed Godwit tracking study is being undertaken as part of the Pacific Shorebird Migration Project; involving biologists from PRBO Conservation Science, the US Geological Survey (USGS) Alaska Science Centre, Massey University and The University of Auckland (both New Zealand). The work was funded by the USGS, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Written by: BirdLife International