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The Birds That Are Breaking World Records

Scientists have discovered that approximately 1,800 of the 10,000 bird species are migratory, driven by favourable weather conditions and food sources.

On today’s episode of The Science Briefing, Dr Sophie Calabretto and Cosmos Magazine journalist Imma Perfetto delve into the fascinating migratory habits of the bar-tailed godwits, a species known for its exceptional long-distance flights.

These shorebirds can be found in various regions, including Australia, Alaska, New Zealand, China, and North Korea. 

In 2007, a female godwit named E7 embarked on a nonstop flight from New Zealand to Alaska, covering an incredible distance of 10,200 kilometres in just seven days. 

This flight set a record as the longest-known continuous flight of any bird at that time.

Perfetto says that Bar-tailed godwits undergo significant physiological changes to prepare for their migratory journeys. 

“Firstly, these birds only weighed 367 grams, teeny tiny, but 55% of that was body fat. Scientists already knew from observing them that the birds got fatter prior to departing off the migration,” Perfetto said.

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“But what they didn’t know is that the size of the birds’ stomachs, their gizzards and their livers was abnormally small, whereas their hearts and their wing muscles were abnormally large. 

Additionally, their bodies undergo structural modifications, and these adaptations optimise energy efficiency and facilitate their nonstop flights, and their bodies will recover to their normal size after the long trip.

“Apparently, they monitor wind conditions and choose to depart for their migration on days where they think that the wind will give them the most assistance in the direction that they’re going.”

Introducing The Science Briefing: a podcast about the science of everything and your new go-to podcast for your snapshot of science news. Hosted by Dr Sophie Calabretto and featuring journalists from Cosmos Magazine. Hear it on the LiSTNR app now.