12 Jan 2010:
Migration of Arctic Terns
Can Reach 50,000 Miles Per Year
Using a tiny device that records location, scientists have tracked the pole-to-pole migration of 11 Arctic terns, discovering that the small birds traveled an average of 44,000 miles a year
, with one completing an annual round-trip journey of 50,700 miles. The new findings show that the Arctic tern migrates
farther than any living thing and that, over the course of the tern’s three-decade lifespan, the bird — weighing just 3.5 ounces — travels 1.5 million miles. That’s equivalent to three round-trips to the moon. The latest study, conducted by an international team of scientists and published in the Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences
, used “geolocators” attached to the birds’ legs. The devices, weighing just .05 ounces, recorded the birds’ location by measuring light intensity and day length. The study, which nearly doubled the estimate of the terns’ migrations, showed that after leaving Greenland and Iceland in the fall, the birds fed in Arctic waters before flying south to the Antarctic Peninsula. They followed two routes, along the coast of South America or Africa. The birds then spent the southern summer in Antarctica before returning to the Arctic in April and May, following an S-shaped path to take advantage of wind currents. On the way home, the birds averaged 323 miles per day.
Yale Environment 360 is
a publication of the
Yale School of Forestry
& Environmental Studies
e360 on Facebook
Donate to e360
View mobile site
Subscribe to our newsletter
Subscribe to our feed:
Yale Environment 360
articles are now available in Spanish and Portuguese on Universia
, the online educational network. Visit the site.
Business & Innovation
Policy & Politics
Pollution & Health
Science & Technology
Antarctica and the Arctic
Central & South America
A Yale Environment 360
video explores Ecuador’s threatened Yasuni Biosphere Reserve with scientists inventorying its stunning forests and wildlife. Watch the video.
is now available for mobile devices at e360.yale.edu/mobile
The Warriors of Qiugang
, a Yale Environment 360
video that chronicles the story of a Chinese village’s fight against a polluting chemical plant, was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject).
Watch the video.
Top Image: aerial view of Iceland
. © Google & TerraMetrics.
In a Yale Environment 360
video, photographer Pete McBride documents how increasing water demands have transformed the Colorado River, the lifeblood of the arid Southwest. Watch the video.