Bar-tailed Godwits are a species known for their long non-stop migrations. Year after year, Bar-tailed Godwits traverse the Pacific Ocean from Alaska to New Zealand. This round-trip flight can be over 18,000 miles in length.
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These long migration flights can be extremely grueling and have previously set records for the longest continuous bird flights. In October of 2021, in fact, a male Bar-tailed Godwit set this world record at 8,100 miles without stopping. This same bird, in doing so, beat his personal record of 7,500 continuous miles during his previous autumn migration.
Now, the 2022 migration season brings a brand new record. This time, the record-setting journey was made by a young bird who is just five months old. The youngster flew 8,425 miles without stopping for a whopping grand total of eleven days spent continuously on the wing.
This particular Bar-tailed Godwit’s journey is the first tracked migration of a Bar-tailed Godwit from Alaska all the way to Tasmania.
The incredible part is that this particular Godwit seems to have been able to smash the longest non-stop flight record due to a navigational error. Being a young bird who hasn’t flown this migration route before, the Godwit, whose been called “B6” by researchers, cut between New Zealand and Australia and ended up on the wrong side of the country.
This kind of error can be deadly. The reason that Bar-tailed Godwits must fly non-stop on their migration routes is the fact that they cannot land on water. Godwits lack webbed feet and cannot take off from the water if they were to land in it. A typical Godwit migration journey is extremely taxing and can cause the birds to lose as much as half of their body weight by the time they make landfall. Navigational errors can be fatal as birds that grow exhausted or malnourished have no options but to keep flying or perish.
Thanks to his resilience, B6 was able to survive his mistake and carry on until his journey’s end. In the future, with experience behind him, B6’s migration journey should be more familiar and slightly less hazardous, although still quite perilous.
Bar-tailed Godwits are listed as near-threatened and are faced with stark population. B6’s incredible journey highlights both the awe-inspiring endurance of these little shorebirds and the incredibly difficult trials that they face. Fortunately, conservation programs like the one which tracked B6’s migration are working to better understand the Bar-tailed Godwit’s migration patterns and survival challenges. With further education comes more hope and greater opportunities to preserve this exceptional record-smashing species.