Flying for your life: save our shorebirds

By Ann Jones March 3, 2017
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Read an extract from our AG#137 cover feature and listen to the related podcast.

THE FIRST EXPERIENCE of Australia, for most international visitors, is an area of destroyed shorebird habitat: Sydney (Kingsford Smith) ­Airport. This flat tidal zone once provided a feeding point for thousands of migratory shorebirds. The birds still appear, but in far smaller numbers.

Every year they come to Botany Bay, and other mudflats across Australia and New Zealand, to eat. They aim to get so fat they’ll look like tiny, feathered sumo wrestlers. They’re migrating to chase an eternal spring and summer, and the seasonal blooms of food that come with it – the Arctic Circle’s mosquito boom in June and July; Yellow Sea mudflats teeming with shellfish in April and May; and the shores of Australasia in November and December.

The act of migration isn’t exceptional, but the distance of this migration is. In 2007 a female bar-tailed godwit was tracked flying 11,680km from Alaska to New Zealand in nine days straight. It is the longest recorded bird flight on the planet. It seems perverse that a bird that can fly far enough to get to the Moon in its ­lifetime is so fragile, but the bar-tailed godwit and its fellow shorebirds – snipes, stilts, stints, turnstones and curlews, among others – face enormous, perhaps insurmountable, challenges.

Read the full feature ‘Flying for their lives’ in the March-April issue of Australian Geographic (AG#137), out now.

Listen to a related ABC Radio National podcast online here.