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
Lexile

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. It is 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. This study began in the summer of 2013. For the first time, scientists attached tracking devices to the birds. It was the first time that the flight has been proven. That is according to results published in the United Kingdom in the journal Biology Letters.

Chris Rimmer of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies and one of the authors of the study, called the flight "a spectacular, astounding feat." The bird weighs only half an ounce. Rimmer was amazed that the little bird could make such a perilous, highly risky journey. And over the open ocean.

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. However, 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. That is according to Andrew Farnsworth, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. He 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. They 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. It flew nearly 1,000 miles before landing in Turks and Caicos. It then continued 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?

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COMMENTS (32)
  • rileyb-Kie
    4/09/2015 - 02:57 p.m.

    I think that it is amazing that that bird can travel that far. I think it is weird that the birds bulk up before they leave. How can it make a flight over a 1700 mile ocean and make it without stopping or eating.

  • calebd-Kie
    4/09/2015 - 03:01 p.m.

    it's wierd how just those little birds can go such a far distance with such small wings.they must have to eat alot before crossing an ocean cause here not eating or drining for a while. i thought some little birds stay in the winter .

  • stanleyw-And
    4/09/2015 - 03:53 p.m.

    The reason why I think they bulk up is so they have enough energy to go almost nonstop with their small size and low authority in the food chain.

  • John0724-YYCA
    4/09/2015 - 08:53 p.m.

    This is a highly risky journey because that little tiny songbird with a tracking device on it's leg is going to flyover the top of the surface of the open ocean which could be risky because when the bird needs to rest and it can't find land ten that is a real trouble. Also when that bird is really hungry it has to find bugs then t would be really hard to find bugs in the wide open ocean and you never know that when you go to near the ocean and a sharks pops up and eats you.

  • HudsonC-3
    4/09/2015 - 11:18 p.m.

    The blackpoll warblers have been suspected to fly long distances. It has now been proven. Two birds flew the same route while another flew a different route. These birds weigh half an ounce and bulk up for the journey. I think we should help these birds. I also like their feathers.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    4/09/2015 - 11:20 p.m.

    I think that it is cool for warbler birds to fly really far from the place where there were born, to the Caribbean where they will migrate for winter, I think that it is cool that it is like a marathon because they are flying from where they're born, to the migrating place to stay for the winter. If warbler birds are heading for south, I think that when the warbler birds are kind of like they're doing a marathon.
    Critical thinking challenge: Why do the warblers bulk up before heading south?
    Answer: The warblers need to bulk up by eating a lot of insects just to make their trip to south nonstop until they got to their destination.

  • JackS-4
    4/10/2015 - 01:31 a.m.

    Every year, the Blackpoll Warbler makes the journey from its home in Northern North America to South America. The journey is roughly 1,700 miles. They do it by bulking up before the journey, and making multiple stops on the way. The numbers, however, are shrinking. This is due to habitat loss due to pollution and urbanization.

    I can't imagine having to fly 1.7 thousand miles for the winter, and that such tiny birds do it, is incredible. I am not surprised that, like many other species, their population is getting smaller.

  • Brady_TwenniWan
    4/10/2015 - 02:15 a.m.

    The warblers bulk up before heading south because they'll need to be warm and fed for the winter trip. It didn't clearly state it but I'm guessing the warbler is close to extinction. It must be hard to fly over the ocean when your used to living in forests. They look like a very cool looking bird. Even though they aren't colorful.

  • ConnorK-2
    4/10/2015 - 02:52 a.m.

    Smaller creatures of planet Earth are truly fascinating. A small singing bird named the blackpoll warbler, was able to complete its routine migration to southern America. The bird has been studied by scientists by using a small tracking device, which mapped the birds route. Scientists have been truly amazed at how strong this little bird is. The warbler was able to cross the, vast, open ocean without any difficulty. In order to do this the bird must first accumulate large amounts of food, and in this case it's insects. Without this energy the bird could never make it across the ocean. This species of bird amazes me in how they are able to conquer these great challenges.

  • benjaminsnyder
    4/10/2015 - 12:16 p.m.

    This article is related to science where the birds need to migrate to survive. If they stay, they will die and never reproduce. This is how this article is related to science.

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