Godwit is long-haul king of bird world: Endurance fliers complete 12,400-kilometre journey in six days, six nights without stopping to eat

Pers / media: OnderzoekPopular


The bar-tailed godwit, a migratory bird that has been deified in Maori folklore, has been acclaimed as the long-distance flight champion of the bird kingdom.

It has puzzled man ever since it guided the Maoris from central Polynesia to the shores of New Zealand 1,000 years ago.

Maori legend says it was their forefathers' observations of the godwit flying south over the Pacific that made them take to their war canoes to find land.

After 20 years' study, scientists have discovered the bar-tailed godwit holds nature's record for endurance flying, migrating from Alaska to New Zealand each year without stopping to feed.

Evidence presented to the Waterbirds Around the World conference in Edinburgh this week claims to have proved the bird completes the 12,400-kilometre journey in six days and six nights at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.

Research, to be submitted to the Condor journal, was carried out by Bob Gill, for the U.S. Geological Survey in Alaska, and Theunis Piersma, of Groningen University, Holland.

Mathematical equations used on aircraft designs investigated models of the birds and found they had the shape, wing length and weight to complete the journey in a single leg.

Fuel for their flights was provided by a weight increase just before takeoff. At the outset, fat accounted for 55 per cent of their body weight. By the time they arrived in New Zealand, they were emaciated.