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A Little Bird that LOVES Summer – and flies 40,000 miles a year to enjoy it 

By Shlomo Maital

Arctic tern

   So – we humans love summer, right. In normal times: vacation, hiking, Nature, beaches, ocean, sunshine…   But there is a little bird, that weighs 100 grams, that REALLY loves summer. I mean, LOVES!   And it flies 40,000 miles round trip, or more,  just to enjoy permanent year-round summer.

   But how?

   So, Arctic terns breed during the summer, in the Arctic and northern temperate regions, in May-June. Then later in July they begin their migration south– far south, 12,000 miles to Antarctica. And they arrive in time for the Antarctic summer. Before winter again returns to the Antarctic, they fly back to the Arctic, another 12,000 miles.

   25,000 miles round trip – the distance around the Earth, at the equator. All this, for a little bird that weighs 100 grams.

     And if this is not amazing enough —   baby birds do it too. Fledglings are born, and within three months, they do the long migratory flight from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back.

     But wait. We do not do it justice. Arctic terns do not fly in a straight line, North Pole to South Pole and back. Tracking devices show this:

   Eleven birds that bred in Greenland or Iceland covered 70,900 km (44,100 mi) on average in a year, with a maximum of 81,600 km (50,700 mi). The difference from previous estimates is due to the birds’ taking meandering courses rather than following a straight route as was previously assumed. The birds follow a somewhat convoluted course in order to take advantage of prevailing winds.

   And consider this:

     The average Arctic tern lives about thirty years, and will, based on …. research, travel some 2.4 million km (1.5 million mi) during its lifetime, the equivalent of a roundtrip from Earth to the Moon over 3 times.

There are so many wonders on our beautiful planet — I wish more people would support Green Planet programs — and respect the Arctic tern and other miraculous creatures that share the Earth with us.

It is not fanatical to claim that indirectly, this awful pandemic reflects our deep lack of respect for Nature, in all its facets, and our arrogant underestimation of Nature’s value and power. If a little bird that weighs one-fifth of a pound can travel a distance equal to the Moon and back over three times in its lifetime —   maybe we humans should be a tad more humble.

   By the way – we know all this, partly because experts place high-tech tags on the Arctic terns’ legs – the tag weighs only 1 gram, has a GPS chip on it, does not burden the bird and helps us understand its habits. Few people see the bird, because it always flies over water.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital

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