An unassuming little songbird called the blackpoll warbler has just broken the record for longest non-stop overwater flight by a bird, when body mass is taken into account.
The tiny bird, which weighs less than half of an ounce, flew up to three days without stopping over a distance of about 1,721 miles, according to a new study published in the latest issue of Biology Letters.
Each year, the birds depart Nova Scotia and Vermont, fly over the entire Atlantic Ocean, and then land in either the Greater Antilles or the northeastern coast of South America, where they spend their winters.
Before the journey, the birds fuel up on extra insects, spiders and fruits.
"It does fatten up, by almost doubling body weight and absorbing many of its digestive organs," lead author William DeLuca, a research fellow at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, told Discovery News.
He added, "It turns into a lean, mean flying machine, just wings, fuel and a small orientation computer."
For the study, DeLuca and his team placed minuscule tracking devices, weighing just over one-tenth of an ounce, on the backs of the birds. The devices were attached using loop harnesses, similar to how a person wears a backpack.
The researchers also affixed colored bands on these birds. The bands helped the scientists to identify the individual "backpack"-wearing birds when they returned to northeastern North America.
It has long been suspected that the birds underwent a lengthy, non-stop journey.
"The indirect evidence in favor of an Atlantic voyage was fairly strong," explained senior author Ryan Norris of the University of Guelph. "You have birds landing on ships in the Atlantic, radar studies off the tip of Nova Scotia showing the birds heading south, and very few sightings of blackpolls in the southern U.S. in the fall."