Tiny song­bird tracked across vast ocean from Canada to Caribbean


A tiny song­bird that sum­mers in the forests of north­ern North Amer­ica has been tracked on a 2,735-kilo­me­ter, over-the-ocean jour­ney from the north­east­ern United States and eastern Canada to the Caribbean as part of their win­ter migration to South Amer­ica, ac­cord­ing to a new 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 has been proven, ac­cord­ing to re­sults pub­lished Wed­nes­day 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, known to bulk up by eat­ing in­sects near their coastal de­par­ture points be­fore head­ing south, 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.

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 1,600 kilo­me­ters be­fore land­ing in the Turks and Caicos be­fore con­tin­u­ing on to South Amer­ica.

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


In this May 2014 photo re­leased by the Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity Lab of Or­nithol­ogy, a black­poll war­bler sits on a limb in Min­nesota.

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