A Moment of Science

Longest Non-stop Bird Flight Ever Recorded

A female godwit has logged the longest non-stop bird flight ever recorded. Learn more on this Moment of Science.

A Godwit flying

Photo: Nick Chill (Flickr)

A Godwit flying above water.

Ever had a flight that seemed like it was never going to end? Well, one bird, the bar-tailed godwit, knows the feeling.

The bar-tailed godwit is a one to one-and-a-half-pound wading bird with long legs and a long bill. Some godwits spend the winter along the coasts of New Zealand, but migrate to and from Alaska each summer to breed.

The female bar-tailed godwit holds the record for the longest non-stop migratory flight ever recorded. The flight, an eight-day, 11,500 kilometer (more than 7000 mile) journey, included no stops for food, drink, rest or sleep.

This record flight was monitored by a team of scientists in New Zealand who fitted thirteen bar-tails with lightweight satellite tags. The tags tracked the location and altitude of the birds during their migration north. On the way to Alaska, the thirteen tagged birds made the trip in two legs. Most stopped in China after flying over 6000 miles, then continued on another 3000 miles to Alaska.

The satellite tags were only expected to work long enough to record the northward flights. But the researchers were excited when one bird’s tag was still working when she made her return flight to New Zealand. It was on this return trip that the eight- day record-breaking flight was made.

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