For the past two summers, Cornell
sophomore Andy Johnson has slogged
through miles of Canadian wet tundra,
battling hordes of mosquitoes in search of
small devices that hold clues to the epic
migrations of birds. The devices are on the
legs of Hudsonian Godwits—and the only
way to recover them and retrieve the data
is by capturing the birds at their nests.
The devices have tiny light sensors that
record the birds’ locations wherever they
go. The team, led by Cornell graduate
student Nathan Senner, has recovered 34
data loggers so far. One of them revealed
that female “LP” flew nonstop from Tierra
del Fuego, Argentina, to Freeport, Texas,
on a 7-day, 6,100 mile flight—before continuing
another 2,050 miles to her nesting
grounds in Churchill, Manitoba.
This summer, nest predation prevented
the team from recovering many more
data loggers, but they gained new insights
about the lives of the chicks. Using tracking
devices, they followed chicks from 12
families—and noticed early signs of their
knack for long-distance travel.
“Within an hour of hatching, the
chicks have already left the nests to gorge
on whatever insects and invertebrates they
stumble across,” Andy wrote in "Fen Filled Summer" on the Cornell
Lab of Ornithology’s blog. “Amazingly,
we found a chick nearly 2 miles from
its nest less than 36 hours after it had
hatched, running on oversized legs, head
bobbing between grassy hummocks.”
The young will double their body
weight every week until they can fly.
They’ll arrive in Tierra del Fuego, more
than 8,000 miles away, by the time they’re
about 4 months old.