BIRD MIGRATION- Blackpoll Warbler: The Pulse of the Planet daily radio program offers free legal online mp3 downloads, exploring the world of sound in nature, culture and science, with audio adventures, world music, extraordinary sound portraits, science diaries, and nature ring-tones; an amazing sonic experience.

Airdate: Sep 22, 1999
Scientist: Scott Weidensaul

BIRD MIGRATION- Blackpoll Warbler

BIRD MIGRATION- Blackpoll Warbler
The Blackpoll Warbler is a long distance endurance champion.

This season, over five billion birds will migrate across North America. One species, the Blackpoll Warbler is a long distance endurance champion. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

The Blackpoll Warbler is a tiny bird with an annual migration route of some 12,000 miles. This time of year it'll be making the journey from far western Alaska all the way across Canada and the Atlantic Ocean to South America. Scott Weidensaul, author of Living On the Wind, tell us more.

"The Blackpoll Warbler is only about four inches long. It weighs less than half an ounce. You could mail two of these things in an envelope for one 33 cent stamp. They're barely heavier than air. And, in fall, those particularly from western Canada and Alaska first migrate east, completely across the top of Canada for 1500 or 2000 miles. Until they wind up along the Atlantic seaboard of Canada and New England and the mid-Atlantic states. And then they wait for strong north-west winds, which will carry them out to sea, across the western Atlantic and they finally make landfall on the coast of South America, the northern coast of South America. It's about an 80 to 90 hour journey, during which they will beat their wings three to four million times; they will have no rest, no food, no water. If they touch the water, they're dead. These birds are not waterproof; they can't float. And yet it works."

And how does a Blackpoll Warbler prepare itself for the journey? Well, like anyone making ready to run a marathon, it eats.

"What they're fueling themselves with is fat. A blackpoll warbler is going to weigh about 15 grams, and it will add a little bit of extra weight in fat before it leaves-- and that fat is the fuel that will carry it across the Atlantic. If they were burning gasoline instead of fat, they'd be getting about 720,000 miles to the gallon."

Additional funding for Pulse of the Planet has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.