Scientist discovered blackpoll warbler birds migrate 1,700 miles across the ocean, flying from the forests of North America where they spend their summers to the Caribbean, escaping the harsh winters of Canada and the U.S.
Its migration to the Caribbean over the ocean was already suspected by scientists but this was the first time they managed to prove it. The study began in 2013 when tracking devices were attached to these tiny birds.
The research’s findings were published on Wednesday April 1 in the U.K. edition of the Biology Letters journal.
One of the study’s authors, Chris Rimmer of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, made the following statement:
“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.”
He explained that warblers, which are common in some parts of North America, usually eat lots of insects to gain weight before heading towards their Caribbean destination. In recent years, their numbers have declined. Rimmer considers that this study could help identify the cause of this decline.
According to Andrew Farnsworth, researcher at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and migration biology specialist considers the newly discovered migration data will help scientists know more about the factors that influence climate change. He explained:
“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? How much energy do they need and if they don’t get it, what happens?”
Many birds fly over open waters during migration season but in the warbler’s case, the situation is slightly different because it’s a forest dweller. Most of the birds that spend their winters in South America reach their destination by flying through Mexico and Central America.
During the 2013 study, scientists managed to attach tracking devices to 19 blackpolls in Vermont’s Mount Mansfield. They also successfully tagged 18 warblers from two areas in Nova Scotia.
Four of the birds, two of which were tagged in Vermont, began migration between Sept. 25 and Oct. 21 and headed directly towards the Hispaniola Island or Puerto Rico. Each flight session lasted between 49 and 73 hours. A fifth bird began its journey from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and flew nearly 1,000 miles before reaching the Turks and Caicos. It then flew to South America.
Image Source: The Internet Bird Collection