It took years of innovations and technological wizardry before airplanes were able to make the journey from North America to Australia without stopping. But it is a journey that birds have been making for millennia.
And now, a very young bird has just broken the record for the longest-known continuous flight.
On October 25, a juvenile bar-tailed godwit completed an 11-day, 1-hour journey from Alaska to Tasmania, the island state to the south of Australia. The flight saw the bird travel an incredible 13,575 kilometers (8,435 miles) and flap its wings for 265 consecutive hours. And maybe the most amazing part?
It was the bird's first-ever migration across the Pacific!
Was it all an accident?
The fact that the long distance flight was the bird's first trip may actually be why it ended up being so long. It may have become lost!
Biologists are not exactly sure how birds like the bar-tailed godwit know how to make their journey, which goes from Alaska to places in either New Zealand or Australia. They are likely guided by some combination of stars, coastlines, and the Earth's magnetic field. And instinct! Also most of the birds fly in groups, which allow them to collectively figure out where to go.
This particular bird (known only by its tag number, 234684) is a juvenile. Young godwits leave about six weeks later than their parents. They need to do more feeding before they are ready for such a taxing, non-stop trip. But when they do leave, they also usually travel in a group, meeting up with their parents at the final destination.
But 234684 seemed to get lost. Maybe it was separated from its group? Maybe it was delayed even more and left solo from the start? Regardless, it made a wrong turn and flew between both New Zealand and mainland Australia, finally ending up in Tasmania.
Is this the longest flight ever made by any bird in history? Probably not. It is just the longest one that we know of, since this was a bird that was tagged. (Its tag has a microchip that sends data back to researchers at the Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Center in New Zealand.)
But regardless how whether or not it is a true record holder, this news highlights the miraculous nature of birds like the godwit. Imagine your first journey being one where you ran for 11 days straight, never stopping for anything—not food, water, or sleep. And imagine you did it all without a map or GPS—just a gut feeling telling you where to go as you flew across thousands of miles of ocean that looked the same in every direction.
Nature truly is incredible!