Rights: University of Waikato, All rights reserved. Published 9 September 2011 Download

Massey University senior lecturer Dr Phil Battley shares his amazing discovery that godwits make the longest non-stop flight of any migrating bird in the world. He also shares his concerns for conservation of these wonderful birds.


Dr Phil Battley

The main thing that we’ve been doing with godwits is trying to figure out how far they fly in migration and where they’re going to. The biggest finding of all was that the godwits we have here in New Zealand make the longest non-stop flights of any migrating bird that we know of in the world.

We can put little tracking devices on birds or into birds and directly track their migrations, and we’ve found that our godwits make the two biggest flights of any birds. They fly from New Zealand up to Asia, so the coast of China and Korea, South Korea and North Korea – that’s about 10,000 kilometres non-stop – but when they’re coming back from breeding in Alaska, they make an even bigger one. They take a direct flight across the Pacific to New Zealand. Some birds might pass a few hundred kilometres from Hawaii on the way down, otherwise they’d be further west, or they’d come across in a band from Alaska all the way down across the equator past Fiji and then down to New Zealand. That’s about 11,000, possibly even 12,000 kilometres, and that is, as far as we know it, the biggest flight of any bird.

We just love to know about amazing things in nature, and this truly, truly is an amazing thing.

But the other one is that we’re trying to figure out what are the risks for these birds when they’re on migration. When they’re here in New Zealand, we can conserve them quite well. They are protected, we know where they roost, we can try to make sure that their habitats are safe. Once they leave New Zealand, it’s a big unknown world, and until we know where they go, we don’t really know how we can protect them best and what the risks are.

So until we had figured out they fly direct to China and Korea, we didn’t know are they going to another country in between? Do they go to Australia? Do they go to the Philippines? Something like that. So at least now we know we’re only dealing with having to conserve them in New Zealand, Eastern Asia and Alaska, so it gives us a much better framework for trying to conserve them.

Adrian Retigan
Pete & Judy Morrin Productions