Laura Erickson/Cornell Lab of Ornithology/AP
By Joseph Dussault
It weighs only as much a tablespoon of sugar, and it flies almost two thousand miles over open ocean, without a single break.
Scientists can now conclusively say that the pocket-sized blackpoll warbler makes the longest overseas migration of any land bird. By fitting the birds with tiny geolocating “backpacks,” researchers were able to map out the grueling migration. Their findings appeared Tuesday in Biology Letters.
The blackpoll warbler, or Setophaga striata, is a songbird native to North America, weighing on average a mere 12 grams. Every winter, these tiny birds migrate to South America in droves – but for more than a half-century, scientists have been unsure exactly how they got there.
Other warblers native to the continent fly south through Mexico. But reports of blackpolls landing on boats in stormy weather suggest that they were taking an alternate route over the Atlantic Ocean. Some ornithologists were skeptical – the trek would be perilous, and a water landing would mean certain drowning for a fatigued bird. So an international team of researchers fit 40 birds in Vermont and Nova Scotia with tracking devices to follow the journey. And amazingly, the little blackpoll proved its mettle.
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