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The Glory Has Departed
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Tiny songbird can fly the Atlantic, scientists confirm
Blackpoll warbler songbird, which weighs 4.2 ounces, can fly 1700 miles non-stop from New England to South America
A diminutive songbird weighing the equivalent of just three teaspoons of sugar can fly over the north Atlantic, scientists have said, resolving a 50-year mystery.
Tipping the scale at a mere 4.2 ounces (12 grammes), the white-throated, black-capped blackpoll warbler (Setophaga striata) migrates each autumn from New England to South America.
For half a century, scientists have debated whether the birds fly non-stop over the ocean or take breaks on land to carry out this marathon flight.
Backpack flight recorders, attached to 40 of the birds, have now provided "irrefutable evidence" that they do it all in one go, the scientists reported in the journal Biology Letters.
A blackpoll warbler fitted with a miniaturised light-sensing geolocator (PA)
The geolocators, weighing only 0.02 ounces, found that the birds completed an astonishing non-stop flight of between 1,410-1,721 miles.
This was the distance from their summer homes in Vermont and Nova Scotia to Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Greater Antilles islands, where they made landfall before continuing to northern Venezuela and Colombia.
The devices were able to track the birds' flight path but were not big enough to transmit the data in real time.
Three devices with the stored information were recovered for analysis from the Vermont birds, and two from the Novia Scotia group.
For a forest bird no bigger than a tennis ball, which would drown if it touched the sea, to do such a feat is a wonder, the researchers said.
"For small songbirds, we are only just now beginning to understand the migratory routes that connect temperate breeding grounds to tropical wintering areas," said Bill DeLuca at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.