Wee bird breaks travel records

BlackpollWarbler

This is the male blackpoll warbler.

He just set the record for the longest non-stop, over water flight by a bird. (*when body mass is taken in account)

That last bit sounds like a couple of bird nerds crunched some numbers, then barged into a room of other bird nerds and declared, “The blackpoll warbler has the longest non-stop, over water flight by a bird!”

Then some snarky bird nerd in the corner scoffed… ‘maybe… if you consider body mass…’

The point is, this little bird flies for three days straight. Without stopping. I can’t do anything for three days straight. Except annoy people. And go in debt.

The little guys fly a distance of 1,721 miles from Nova Scotia and Vermont to spend their winters in the Greater Antilles or the northeastern coast of South America.

The birds are observed to fill up on extra insects, spiders and fruits to prepare of the long journey.

A blackpoll warbler prepares for a long journey.

A blackpoll warbler prepares for a long journey.

“It does fatten up, by almost doubling body weight and absorbing many of its digestive organs,” lead author William DeLuca, a research fellow at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, told Discovery News.

It has long been suspected that the birds underwent a lengthy, non-stop journey.

“The indirect evidence in favor of an Atlantic voyage was fairly strong,” explained senior author Ryan Norris of the University of Guelph. “You have birds landing on ships in the Atlantic, radar studies off the tip of Nova Scotia showing the birds heading south, and very few sightings of blackpolls in the southern U.S. in the fall.”

Migration pattern of the blackpoll warbler. And cocaine.

Migration pattern of the blackpoll warbler. And cocaine.

Considering the small bird weighs about a half an ounce, accurately tracking the bird in the past was a challenge. To conduct their studies, the U of M scientists affixed a tiny backpack to the bird with a loop harness.

A blackpoll warbler with a backpack containing a tracker. Or cocaine.

A blackpoll warbler with a backpack containing a tracker. Or cocaine.

Scientists believe climate is a driving factor in why the birds have such extreme migratory patterns.

So of course, their numbers have been in steep decline in recent years. Deforestation, especially in their rainforest habitats in South America, has been cited as a major factor in the population drop.

The bird is unique in that, in addition to its record breaking distance flights, it also has one of the highest pitched avian songs ever recorded.

The Audubon Society has some great examples of blackpoll warbler songs.

And here is some video of these marathon fliers…