When thinking of birds, you probably picture the little robin of the woods who’s been living in your garden since forever (did you know robins are pretty territorial?) or the pigeon who’s constantly pooping on your window sill at the office. As they’re pretty much everywhere, we rarely think about other birds than those who we see each and every day. When imagining impressive animals, birds are certainly not the first nor the second not the third who come to mind. And yet, that’s where we’re all wrong because those flying little dinosaur offspring have more than meets the eye.
By now, you’re probably wondering why we’re rambling on about birds and not without reason, so let us explain. This whole article turns around a single bird who flew from Alaska to Australia without stopping. Yes, that sounds like the title of an eco-conscious fairy tale. And yes, it seems pretty darn impossible. And yet, we’re telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help us godwit.
A remarkable species
We’re talking in particular about a bar-tailed godwit, aka Limosa lapponica, aka tag number 234684. On a seemingly random day in 2022, October 13th to be precise, that wonderful little creature of just five months old decided to embark on a journey that would take 11 days and 1 hour. A route that would take him from Alaska to the Australian state of Tasmania, spanning over 13.560 kilometers. And even though that seems awfully long and far, the bird didn’t stop once. He didn’t sleep, didn’t touch down, and rarely ate during the trajectory. And by doing so, he set the world record for the longest non-stop bird flight.
How that’s possible, you ask? Godwits are known for their great migratory movements, regularly taking them from one of the globe to the other. They’ve even evolved in such a way that they’re actually changing their metabolism during those flights. To be more precise: they absorb 25% of the tissue that forms their own digestive tract, liver and kidneys – a process called autophagy or self-eating. Not something most of us can put on our curriculums. On the other hand, they can make their heart and chest muscles grow in order to absorb and retain more oxygen. The fact that they’re great migrators goes without saying and it’s not the first time a godwit has made an awfully long flight. But whether or not the behavior of this little bird is representative for its species, remains to be seen. “There are so few birds that have been tagged, we don’t know how representative or otherwise this event is”, Woehler, one of the researchers working on the study, said.