The Bar-tailed Godwit’s Annual Migration Is Utterly Astounding

The birds fly nonstop from Alaska to New Zealand every fall. But disappearing tidal flats threaten their return journey.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of The National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.


This is BirdNote.

Right now, a Bar-tailed Godwit is out over the Pacific Ocean making an eight-day, non-stop flight from Alaska to New Zealand. More than 7,000 miles. No rest. No turning back. Only the great open ocean below.

Using satellite tags, Nils Warnock, Executive Director of Audubon Alaska, studied the godwits’ amazing yearly migration. Here’s what he learned:

NW: "These godwits are epic migrants. We had a bird, E-7, that we had tagged, and she left New Zealand in the spring. She flies non-stop seven days, ten thousand kilometers, to the Yellow Sea. All of the Bar-tailed Godwits of Alaska, they stop at the Yellow Sea."

However, the food-rich tidal mudflats of the Yellow Sea are disappearing rapidly. 

NW: "So that really struck home--the critical importance of the Yellow Sea. That’s their only stopover site between New Zealand and Alaska is the Yellow Sea."

The birds can achieve these long distance flights only when they have fattened up whether along the coast of Alaska in our fall, or China and Korea in our spring. 

There’s a lot more to this story at I’m Michael Stein.



Interview by Todd Peterson

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Calls of Bar-tailed Godwits [132156] recorded by G. Vyn.
Show opens with calls of Bar-tailed Godwits on xeno.canto [82728] recordist unknown.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

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September 2013 / September 2017   ID# yellowsea-01-2013-09-24 yellowsea-01 Marantz V Tracks 241, 242