Friday, February 17, 2012

Flight Record: Songbirds Trek 9,000 Miles to Africa

Tiny songbirds weighing no more than two tablespoons of salt apparently globe-trot regularly from the Arctic to Africa, crossing either Asia or the Atlantic to do it, scientists find.

Researchers had known the northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) had one of the largest ranges of any songbird in the world, with breeding grounds extending from Alaska and extreme northwestern Canada across northeastern Canada and into Europe and Asia. The insect-eating birds apparently leave the Arctic region of the Western Hemisphere for the winter, but it was a mystery as to precisely where they migrated.

Now, using light-sensing tags strapped onto these songbirds, investigators find these birds overwinter in sub-Saharan Africa. Their one- to three-month voyages can reach distances of up to 9,000 miles (14,500 kilometers), covering up to 180 miles (290 km) per day.

"This is the only known terrestrial bird that physically links the two radically different ecosystems of the Old World and the Arctic regions of the New World," said researcher Ryan Norris at the University of Guelph in Canada.

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