Meet the Godwit in North Korea

A godwit made international headlines in 2007 when she was confirmed to have flown for seven days and nights without stopping to a feeding ground in China. That was the longest nonstop flight by a land bird ever recorded. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

A godwit made international headlines in 2007 when she was confirmed to have flown for seven days and nights without stopping to a feeding ground in China. That was the longest nonstop flight by a land bird ever recorded. 

To the untrained eye, it’s just a lot of birds on an otherwise deserted stretch of muddy, flat coastline. But for ornithologists, North Korea’s west coast is a little piece of paradise each spring — and both the birds and a dedicated group of birdwatchers travel a long way to get there. The birds being watched aren’t exactly household names — bar-tailed godwits (Limosa Iapponica), great knots (Calidris Tenuirostris) and dunlins (Calidris Alpina).

“Godwits are amazing,” said project member David Melville, a British citizen who has long lived in New Zealand. “Their flight from New Zealand to China is approximately 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles), nonstop for seven days, and then after a month they fly another 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) to Alaska to breed. On the return trip to New Zealand, they fly nonstop across the Pacific ocean, a trip of 11,000 kilometers (6,800 miles), in about nine days.” To survive the journey northward, the birds need to spend a month to six weeks in a place where they can rest and replenish their strength, sometimes doubling their weight, from a lean 330 grams (12 ounces) to a plump 660 grams or more, before starting on the final leg.

A godwit dubbed “E7” made international headlines in 2007 when, thanks to a tiny transmitter implanted in her abdomen, she was confirmed to have flown for seven days and nights without stopping to a feeding ground in China — a 10,200-kilometer (6,340-mile) flight. That was the longest nonstop flight by a land bird ever recorded. When she flew back to New Zealand from Alaska, entirely over the open Pacific, without stopping for eight days and nights, she set another record distance, of 11,760 kilometers (7,300 miles).

“Unlike seabirds like albatrosses, they can’t land in the water. If they do they are finished,” Woodley said. “We know that some must be doing 12,000 kilometers (7,460 miles) or more.”

Rapid development on the coasts of China and South Korea may be leaving the birds with fewer places to take their mid-trip rest. That leaves the relatively untouched west coast of North Korea as one of the few places they can still find their favorite foods, small bits of seafood — mostly mollusks and crustaceans — and worms.

Read more here.

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