A tiny bird and a marathon migration A blackpoll warbler sits on a limb in Minnesota (AP photos)
A tiny bird and a marathon migration

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A tiny songbird that summers in the forests of northern North America has been tracked on a 1,700-mile, over-the-ocean journey. It was tracked from the northeastern United States and eastern Canada to the Caribbean as part of the songbirds' winter migration to South America, according to a study.

Scientists had long suspected that the blackpoll warbler had made its journey to the Caribbean over the ocean. But the study that began in the summer of 2013 when scientists attached tracking devices to the birds was the first time that the flight was proven. Thats according to results published in the United Kingdom in the journal Biology Letters.

"It is such a spectacular, astounding feat that this half-an-ounce bird can make what is obviously a perilous, highly risky journey over the open ocean," said Chris Rimmer of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, one of the authors.

The warblers are known to bulk up by eating insects near their coastal departure points before heading south. The birds are common in parts of North America, but their numbers have been declining.

"Now maybe that will help us focus attention on what could be driving these declines," Rimmer said.

Knowing how the blackpoll warblers migrate helps scientists know more about the implications of changing climate, said Andrew Farnsworth, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who specializes in migration biology and was not involved in the study.

"What happens if birds aren't able to fuel sufficiently to make this kind of flight because of habitat fragmentation and habitat loss in New England or the Canadian Maritimes?" Farnsworth said. "How much energy do they need and if they don't get it, what happens?"

A number of bird species fly long distances over water, but the warbler is different because it's a forest dweller. Most other birds that winter in South America fly through Mexico and Central America.

In the summer of 2013, scientists tagged 19 blackpolls on Vermont's Mount Mansfield and 18 in two locations in Nova Scotia. Of those, three were recaptured in Vermont with the tracking device attached and two in Nova Scotia.

Four warblers, including two tagged in Vermont, departed between Sept. 25 and Oct. 21 and flew directly to the islands of Hispaniola or Puerto Rico in flights ranging from 49 to 73 hours. A fifth bird departed Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and flew nearly 1,000 miles before landing in Turks and Caicos before continuing on to South America.

On their return journeys north, the birds flew along the coast.

Critical thinking challenge: Why do the warblers bulk up before heading south?

Assigned 15 times

  • AutumnN14
    4/13/2015 - 05:59 p.m.

    I find it interesting that a small bird like that could be underestimated. Yes, it is very small, that it can't be so strong, according to other people. But, the size of this bird could help it make it that far because it is less dense in the air, and it glides better and faster. But then again, it isn't very strong of a bird. I think that it doesn't matter the size, birds are very significant. I love this article.

  • raymondp-Koc
    5/26/2015 - 02:57 a.m.

    I always wanted to become a bird watcher. I think its cool how birds migrate every season. I always wondered what it was like to fly with a flock of birds.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    4/21/2016 - 01:58 a.m.

    The tiny bird that is known as a blackpoll warblers can be able to fly over very far distances which scientists had been able to find out that the warblers are able to fly over very far distances. The scientists might have been able to track down the half-ounce birds so that they can be able to see how far the birds can be able to go which they wouldn't believe that they are able to go very far. The people might have been able to see about the bird going very far distances but they needed to find out what is making the birds to be declining over the year. Scientists might have not been able to find out about what is causing the birds to be declining which they had to be finding out what is causing it to be declining the whole bird population.
    Critical Thinking Question: Why do the warblers bulk up before heading south?
    Answer: I know that the warblers need to bulk up before heading south because they needed to eat food in order to get them a lot of energy they needed to head south.

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