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Migration of Great Snipes for the record books

Imagine running as fast as you can without stopping to eat or rest. Now imagine doing that for three continuous days and traveling 4,000 miles while averaging a speed of 50 mph.

While we know this is physically impossible for humans to do, researchers have found that three birds made several trips of that distance without stopping, a feat almost incomprehensible.

The amazing bird that makes these epic trips is the Great Snipe. The bird is a stocky wading bird described as bulkier than the Common Snipe. But, for being such a hefty bird, the trips they make probably hold the record for traveling such a long distance so quickly.

Although it’s not the longest nonstop trip ever flown by a bird (that record goes to a godwit that flew 7,145 miles straight), it’s probably the fastest at an average of 50 mph (the godwit on the other hand averaged about 35 mph).

The sustained high speed indicates it was really working to go that fast and get to the destination as quickly as possible. Also, scientists believe these types of trips aren’t atypical, but probably common for the Great Snipe.

Back in 2009, a couple scientists put geolocating tags on 10 Great Snipe they captured in Sweden. When they recovered the birds, the scientists found the birds made three trips. This was reported in Wired:

The voyages proved to be extreme, even for the already-extreme world of avian migration. The birds had flown nonstop to central Africa in late August 2009. One trip spanned 2,800 miles, another 3,800 miles, and the third more than 4,200 miles. Respectively these took 48, 72 and 84 hours.

Their migration skills are something to marvel at and could give us a glimpse into the true capabilities and physical limits of birds.

Most scientists believed that birds making a journey this long would inevitably stop somewhere to rest and look for food, but that tendency is most likely unnecessary.

Although it’s completely unconfirmed by any scientific evidence, perhaps birds stop to see the sights and visit old friends. Hey, that’s what I do on road trips.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.

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