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The Ruddy Turnstone – Record Breaking Tiny Migrant

Tuesday 13 April 2010

This is the Ruddy Turnstone – a very small bird weighing no more than around two hundred and forty grams. It is part of the sandpiper family and noted for it harlequin-like pattern of black and white on its plumage. Quite pretty but, generally, you might not think much to look at. The Ruddy Turnstone has been keeping a secret for quite a while though. For such a tiny bird it certainly likes to accrue its air miles.

Scientists at the British Antarctic Survey have been tracking the migration of the Ruddy Turnstone (we should just call it the RT, really) thanks to tiny tracking devices. Amazingly, the RT is able to cover 27,000 kilometers in its migration pattern. It goes from Australia to the Arctic and then back to Oz. What is more they fly quickly. Stopping off for the occasional break one of these birds managed to make it from Australia to Taiwan in six days flat.

Previous to this tracking devices have been far too heavy to be used on birds this small. However the light sensor geolocator used to track the Ruddy Turnstone weighs in at only one gram. This makes it possible to fit the trackers on to the birds without the birds unduly suffering due to the weight. So, it turns out that this unremarkable looking bird can certainly fly far and fast. It is only when they fly, that they reveal another secret. Just look at the wonderful patterns on their back and wings as they take flight as a group. Wonderful.

Image Credit Flickr User Loren Sztajer  

One of the birds completed an almost four thousand mile leg of its journey in just four days.  That means these birds can fly pretty quickly too.  In order to complete such a vast journey the average speed of flight was just over thirty miles an hour.  When the tail winds were at their best then the miniaturised geotrackers recorded speeds of up to sixty five miles an hour.

Scientists hope that the information provided on the birds by the devices will, because of the data on their migration routes, stop off places and physical capabilities help conserve the Ruddy Turnstone and other species for the future.  One of the greatest unsung migratory travellers at last has its moment in the spotlight.

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