While songbirds, hawks, and dragonflies are migrating this month there’s a bird whose journey beats them all.
The arctic tern sets long distance records in its pole-to-pole round-trip migration of 44,000 miles (71,000 km). Since arctic terns can live 30 years, an individual can rack up a lifetime achievement of 1.5 million miles (2.4 million km).
The data behind this amazing feat was published in 2010 by the Arctic Tern Migration Project which studied arctic terns that nest in Greenland and winter in Antarctica.
To track the terns the scientists used tiny geolocator tags from the British Antarctic Survey, the same tags used to track wood thrushes. In both studies scientists captured each bird, affixed a tag, then had to find the same bird on its breeding grounds a year later and recapture it to gather the data. Wood thrushes don’t put up a fight but arctic terns relentlessly dive bomb their enemies to drive them away. This study had bird hazards.
Attacking terns were not the only hazards. Camping on an island off the coast of Greenland is no picnic. “Our tents blew out to sea in the storm.” Yow!
Watch this video from the Encyclopedia of Life to see the terns’ amazing migration and why it’s worthwhile for these birds to travel so far.
For more information, visit the Arctic Tern Migration Project at www.arctictern.info.
(video by the Encyclopedia of Life)