Great Snipe Sets Migration Record for Speed

With a round little body, the great snipe might not look like the most aerodynamic flyer, but it has set the record for fastest long-distance, non-stop flight in the animal kingdom.

In the spring of 2009, scientists captured ten great snipes on Sweden’s western coast, fit them with tiny geolocator tags, and watched the birds take to the air. One year later, they recaptured three of those birds in Africa, and discovered the great snipe is a skilled flying machine capable of extraordinary feats.

Without stopping for even a short break, one snipe covered a distance of roughly 4,200 miles at an average speed of 50 mph—completing its transcontinental flight in only two days. “We know of no other animal that travels this rapidly over such a long distance,” writes Raymond Klaassen and his colleagues in the journal Biology Letters.

"Our results demonstrate that some migratory birds are prepared to accept extreme costs of strenuous exercise and large fuel loads, even when stopover sites are available along the route and there is little tailwind assistance.”

The news of such an extraordinary flyer illustrates just how much we still have to learn about birds, and how important it is to protect their habitat all along their migratory routes.

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