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World Record Bird Journey

Bird On! News
31st January 1997

The new record wild bird journey, proved by bird ringing, was snatched by a Common Tern caught in Australia last week (24 January). This tiny ocean wanderer, weighing in at about 120gm (about 4 oz), had travelled about 26,000km (well over 16,000 miles)!

The Common Tern wore a Helsinki ring and the information from Finland was quickly made available. It was reared on an island in Central Finland and marked as a chick on 30 June last year. These birds are summer migrants to Europe and fly to tropical Africa and points South for the winter.

There are British records of both Common and Arctic Terns in Australia. However the distance they have travelled is not quite so far as the Finnish bird will have gone over a thousand kilometres when it passed through the English Channel. The British record is probably just over 20,000 km.

This particular bird was obviously ambitious! It was caught by the Australian ringing team on a beach near the Gippsland Lakes in coastal Victoria. The Victoria Wader Study Group, part of the Royal Australian Ornithologists Union, sometimes catch other birds ringed many miles away but nothing to match this one.

Even if the tern had started flying straight away (and it was still two weeks from making its first flight when it was ringed) it would have had to travel 120km each day. Allowing for a few weeks learning about life in Finland it probably travelled at 200km (125 miles) a day!

Clive Minton, the ringer in charge of the group that caught the bird said today

'You would not have known it was any different from the 500 other Common Terns we caught on this trip. We know, from ringing evidence, that they come from Yakutia in Eastern Siberia - much closer to us.'

The Great Circle route, the quickest way for the bird to have travelled, would be 15,500 km but it has been proved that the Common Terns from Finland go round the coasts of Europe and Africa - hence the 26,000 kms. The previous record was a different species of tern - an Arctic - which went from the White Sea to Fremantle in Australia in 1956. This bird had travelled 22,500 km.

Clive Minton is very excited by this finding.

'Until now the record we had was the other way round. A tiny wader, a Curlew Sandpiper, which we had ringed during the Northern winter was found breeding on the Taimyr Peninsular in Western Siberia - 13,000 km away.'

Bird migrants are supremely adapted to make long journeys. Chris Mead, long standing ringer for the British Trust for Ornithology, said today

'There are millions of migrants who will be back with us in the summer which are 5,000 kms or more away from us in Africa at the moment.'

'Their life-style is based on these huge movements and they are easily able to make them provided their habitats, and therefore food, are secure. It is habitat destruction which is the worse threat to our birds in modern times.'

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