Small Birds Make Epic Voyage

Iturria: ScienceShot

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on 14 February 2012, 7:01 PM

Credit: Heiko Schmaljohann

Look out, Phileas Fogg. Tiny Arctic birds make the globe-trotting hero of Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days seem like a slowpoke. The breeding grounds of the northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe), which weighs only about 25 grams, stretch along frozen tundra from Eurasia to Eastern Canada and Alaska. To see where they spend their chilly winters, researchers recently studied clues hidden in the hardy animals' feathers and even tagged a few with lightweight trackers. The birds don't just migrate, they fly amazing races, the team reports online today in Biology Letters. Eastern Canadian nesters seem to cross through Greenland and south into Western Africa—an already impressive journey. But their Alaskan kin put them to shame. Come the cold, these intrepid explorers travel over Russia and the Arabian Dessert before plopping down mostly near Kenya , almost at the opposite end of the continent from their fellows. Wheatears complete this 14,500 kilometer journey in nearly 90 days, too, a marathon migration very rare for such little birds.

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