Phenomenal mystery of migration solved in North America

By Martin Fowlie, 7 Apr 2015

For decades, birders and scientists alike have pondered the mysterious disappearance of Blackpoll Warblers on the eastern coast of North America during autumn migration. It had long been suggesteded that they flew directly over the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean or even South America. Thanks to miniaturised tracking devices, a team of American and Canadian researchers has solved this mystery, proving these small 12g Blackpoll Warblers embark on non-stop flights averaging 2540 km over the Atlantic Ocean to their stopover and wintering destinations in northern South America. These amazing birds are able to accomplish this flight by nearly doubling their weight prior to migration, and taking advantage of favourable weather conditions.

The project was led by a team of universities and organisations including: University of Massachusetts - Amherst, the University of Guelph, Vermont Center for Ecostudies, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre, Acadia University, and BirdLife Partner, Bird Studies Canada.

Information such as this is vital to conservation efforts, not just for Blackpoll Warblers, but for numerous species around the world. By understanding how species are using the landscape at local and hemispheric scales at different times of the year, we can identify areas of critical importance for conservation efforts, and begin to understand how issues such as climate change may impact their survival. This story in particularly impresses the need for multi-national collaboration in the conservation of almost all North American bird species, a story that is echoed in conservation efforts around the world.

William V. DeLuca, Bradley K. Woodworth, Christopher C. Rimmer, Peter P. Marra, Philip D. Taylor, Kent P. McFarland, Stuart A. Mackenzie, D. Ryan Norris, Biol. Lett.: 2015 11 20141045; DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.1045