Does a non-stop, five-day flight from Iceland to the western part of Africa sound appealing? Maybe not what you had in mind, but then, again, you’re not an Icelandic whimbrel.
Scientists at the University of Iceland’s Research Center in South Iceland have finally unveiled the whimbrel’s flight schedule. It was done by using geolocators to track the migration of the birds (Numenius phaeopus). Those are small buttons, the size of a fingernail—easy carry-on luggage for a bird this size.
It was discovered that the whimbrels can complete a round-trip of 11,000 km (6,835 miles), making two non-stop sea crossings, flying as fast as 90 km/hr (56 mph) , which is the fastest recorded for shorebirds flying over the ocean. During the trip, the birds had wind support at times, but also faced headwinds of up to twice their ground speed.
Four whimbrels were followed over a period of a whole year. They all had a departure date from Iceland between August 3 and 6. Without resting, they flew between 79 and 120 hours and covered a distance of 3,898-5,535 km (2,422-3,439 miles), reported Tómas Grétar Gunnarsson, director of the Research Center and one of the coauthors of an article on the subject, published in Scientific Reports. The main author of the article is José A. Alves.
The average speed during the trip was about 50 km/hr (31 mph), but parts of it were flown at 80-90 km/hr (50-56 mph).
The departure date from Africa was April 20-29. Those birds that flew directly to Iceland landed there April 29 and May 4, but the ones that made a stopover in the UK spent 11 and 15 days there before landing in Iceland on May 12 and 14.