A Bar-tailed Godwit, one of seven godwits being followed by satellite that we reported on in our October issue, has flown nonstop from Alaska to New Zealand in one of the most astonishing bird migrations ever recorded. The female, dubbed E7 by scientists, flew about 7,200 miles from Alaska's Yukon Delta to the mouth of the Piako River on New Zealand's North Island. The journey lasted about eight days.
Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Science Center expected the transmitter batteries to die before the godwits began their fall migrations. But the power didn't give out on E7's device, and signals are still being received from four other birds still in Alaska.
Last spring, E7 flew 6,300 miles from New Zealand to China nonstop, settled in for a five-week layover, then continued on to Alaska — another 4,500-mile nonstop flight.
The bird left Alaska on August 29 and headed toward Hawaii, according to USGS. More than 440 miles north of Honolulu, she turned southwest and eventually passed about 12 miles east of the small Hawaiian island of Nihoa. She later appeared to fly directly over or slightly west of Fiji, continuing south toward New Zealand.
In the early afternoon of September 7, she passed just offshore of North Cape, New Zealand and then turned back southeast, making landfall in the late evening at the river mouth, eight miles east of where she had been captured seven months earlier.
Total miles flown on migration since March: 18,000.
BirdLife International points out the conservation challenges for such a far-flying species, noting that the tracked godwits have stopped in 11 countries. National Geographic notes that the number of godwits completely the flight has dropped "from around 155,000 in the mid-1990s to just 70,000 today."
You can keep tabs on the other godwits in the study with Google Earth here. — M.M.