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Bird Makes Longest Non-Stop Flight

Bird E7, as she was tagged by USGS scientists, completed a 7,200-mile journey from Alaska to New Zealand, which ended in early September. (Image credit: Keith Woodley/USGS)

She just flew in from New Zealand and boy are her wings tired.

Early last month, a female Bar-tailed Godwit, a type of shorebird, completed an epic journey from New Zealand to Alaska and back, a trip that included the longest flight ever recorded for a land bird, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The bird logged a flight that lasted for more than eight days and covered a distance of 7,200 miles (11,600 kilometers), the equivalent of flying roundtrip from New York to San Francisco, and then back to San Francsico. The USGS tracked the migrating bird and its travel mates via satellite.

Bar-tailed Godwits (Limosa lapponica) spend their summers breeding in western and northern Alaska, and in the fall gather on the Alaska Peninsula to make the long flight across the Pacific Ocean to their winter homes in New Zealand and southeastern Australia.

The 18,000-mile (29,000-kilometer) roundtrip journey is the longest known non-stop migration for any shorebird species, though the birds sometimes fly it in several legs.

The conservation status of Bar-tailed Godwits is listed as of High Concern in the United States, mostly because of the birds' low population size (there are only an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 breeding birds in Alaska) and habitat threats to some of their migratory stop-overs in Asia.

Andrea Thompson
Andrea Thompson

Andrea Thompson is an associate editor at Scientific American, where she covers sustainability, energy and the environment. Prior to that, she was a senior writer covering climate science at Climate Central and a reporter and editor at Live Science, where she primarily covered Earth science and the environment. She holds a graduate degree in science health and environmental reporting from New York University, as well as a bachelor of science and and masters of science in atmospheric chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology.