Monday, September 14, 2015

Tiny Blackpoll Warblers Make Mind-boggling Migration


For decades, it’s been the stuff of birding legend: Each fall, fist-sized songbirds called blackpoll warblers leave the spruce forests of New England and eastern Canada and fly south across the open ocean toward South America.

Now, improbable though it seems, the rumors have been proven true. A research team led by an ecologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst outfitted five birds with tiny geolocator backpacks and found that each completed the incredible journey, flying up to 1,721 miles in one go.

The slight birds, which typically weigh a little more than two quarters, accomplish this seemingly impossible feat by fattening up preflight, in some cases nearly doubling their body weight.

Blackpolls are a common North American species, known for the male’s plumage of a black cap and white cheeks. They make a high-pitched “seet-seet-seet” call, and many ornithologists delight in their distinctive bright yellow legs.

In the spring, they take the overland route north and do not rush.  But the return trip south is a different story. They start along the coast in the Northeast and fly south to the Caribbean in one long two-to-three-day swoop, traversing the vast ocean. Read more ...

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