Juvenile Bird Sets a World Record with Nonstop 8,435-Mile Flight from Alaska to Australia

Bar-tailed godwits are known to migrate long distances. Volker Lautenbach via Getty Images

On October 24, a juvenile bar-tailed godwit touched down on the northeastern tip of Tasmania, completing a non-stop flight of 8,435 miles. The 11-day journey will likely prove to be a new world record, according to scientists at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. The research has yet to be peer-reviewed or published. 

The godwit, a long-billed wading bird in the sandpiper family, was tagged as a hatchling last summer by researchers hoping to follow its first migration across the Pacific Ocean. The solar-powered 5G GPS chip indicated that the 5-month-old bird, known only by its satellite tag number 234684, left the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta on October 13.  

The bird embarked on a southwestern course toward Japan and then turned southeast over the Aleutian Islands, according to a map published by New Zealand’s Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre. Taking a route west of Hawaii, the godwit passed over the Pacific island nation of Kiribati on October 19 and likely didn’t see land again until two days later, when it flew over Vanuatu on October 21. On October 23, the bird took a sharp right toward Tasmania and arrived at the island’s Ansons Bay one day later. 

Phenomenal. Bar-tailed Godwit has broken its own record: a first-year bird (five months old!) has flown 13,560 km—just shy of the direct flight limit of a Boeing 787—from Alaska to Tasmania, seemingly non-stop, in just 11 days (avg. speed: c.51 km/hr). https://t.co/Q3vemnrKaF pic.twitter.com/op1ZYeKVFN

— Alex Berryman (@AlexJB497) October 25, 2022

“Whether this is an accident, whether this bird got lost, or whether this is part of a normal pattern of migration for the species, we still don’t know,” Eric Woehler of BirdLife Tasmania told the Associated Press. “There are so few birds that have been tagged, we don’t know how representative or otherwise this event is. It may be that half the birds that do the migration from Alaska come to Tasmania directly…or it might be that this is the first [time] it’s ever happened.”

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Adult godwits begin their migration up to six weeks earlier than juveniles, so the tagged bird was unlikely to have followed more experienced adults south. Juveniles spend those extra weeks before migrating fattening up for the flight, sometimes saving so much fat that their internal organs shrink to make room. Godwits generally migrate in flocks, but the researchers aren’t sure yet if the record-breaking flight was made solo or as a part of a group. 

Currently, Guinness World Records lists the longest non-stop flight as 7,580 miles. It was made by a satellite-tagged bar-tailed godwit that flew from Alaska to New Zealand in 2020. The same bird broke its own record the next year with an 8,100-mile flight, which Guinness has yet to acknowledge. And now, a different bar-tailed godwit topped that mark by more than 300 miles.

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