Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bird Migration Champions

The Song Thrushes have been singing for the last few weeks. Within three weeks the first of the long distance migrants will be arriving from Africa.

Most of us marvel at the annual migration of well-known birds such as the Swallow and House Martin to and from Africa.

Many of us will also have heard of the long migration of some Arctic Terns which winter in the Antarctic and Summer in the Arctic this the longest know bird migration. Many of these and other birds are regular fliers in between migrations, so at least they have some flying exercise before they set off. If you consider the Swift for example, I doubt its migration to and from Africa causes much trouble at all. One ringed as an adult at a nest in England was caught later feeding the same day in Germany having followed a warm front across Europe to hunt for the increased insect supply. These birds spend almost their entire lives on the wing so I don’t see anything particularly difficult about flying to Africa. The same could be said for the Swallow and House Martin.

Amongst the contenders for super bird contenders might be the many warblers such as chiff-chaffs and the like. These spend a lot of time hoping around and taking relatively short flights in pursuit of food before eventually setting off to Africa.

Other birds which winter here and breed in the Artic such as the many waders and the divers also make long journeys much of it over the sea. Some make mistakes and are quite capable of crossing the Atlantic ocean in one go. Again the waders keep their hand in so to speak over winter and the divers at least can take a break on the sea. No, these birds don’t rate in my view.

There are however, two birds which do rate as Olympic champions and are quite capable of making the epic journey to and from Africa without any prior exercise. Many birdwatchers have never seen either two fly and many have never seen them either, but only heard them!!. These two species spend their entire lives on the ground and will fly only under extreme duress. Both are small birds and one is very small.

What are they? The Corncrake and the Quail!. These small birds (the Quail is little bigger than a sparrow) can literally take off one day and fly the whole distance from Africa, across open seas, after having probably never even flapped their wings once whilst in their summer or winter haunts. This is to my mind truly the feat of Olympic champions.

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