The sooty shearwater, a medium-sized gray seabird, has the longest known commute of any animal. Scientists have recorded its migration and discovered it covers 39,000 miles in a giant figure-8 pattern over the Pacific Basin in just 262 days. Sooty shearwaters sometimes travel more than 565 miles a day!
The birds breed in islands off the coasts of New Zealand and Chile, where they nest in burrows in the ground. They spend the summer season feeding near Antarctica. They then fly north, rarely pausing for nourishment en route, in order to take advantage of the summer season off the coasts of California, Alaska, or Japan. Sooty shearwaters feed on fish, squid, and krill, often trailing whales to scoop up the fish they displace or fishing boats in search of scraps tossed overboard.
A common bird, with a worldwide population estimated at nearly 20 million, their populations have started to dwindle.
In 1961, near Monterey Bay, California, thousands of sooty shearwaters suddenly began acting strangely, before dying on the streeets of nearby towns in mass numbers. The cause was later traced to toxic algae that had poisoned the birds. The incident inspired Alfred Hitchcock's thriller The Birds.
Learn more about migration (of birds and other living things) with these Science NetLinks resources:
- Learner.org (K-12)
- Too Bright at Night? (6-8)
- Ascending Plants (6-12)
- Deadly Salmon Farms (6-12)
- Feather Analysis (6-12)
- Migration Station (6-12)
- Pueblo Migration (6-12)
- Bird Populations (9-12)
- Immigration (9-12)
- The United States/Mexico Border (9-12)