Mysteries of Migration.

Where do birds go and how do we find out ?

As summer slips into autumn many birds are ready to move away to warmer climes or in the case of many of our waders coming to the UK and to the sites where they will be spending the winter months. Long gone are the days when people thought swallows hibernated at the bottom of lakes or that cranes flew to the edge of the world to fight tiny goat-riding men. (yes really! ) New technology is shedding light on the incredible journeys that some of the UK’s birds make and this information is being provided through exciting new GPS-tagging projects.

One of the species providing some of the answers to migration mysteries is the bar-tailed godwit and that’s due to a research group tracking and following the godwits on their spring and autumn migrations. Facilitated by the RSPB, trained scientists from the Wash Wader Group have attached GPS tag ‘backpacks’ to five bar-tailed godwits. The tags are designed to be as unobtrusive as possible and they weigh just a tiny fraction of the godwit’s body weight. This allows the birds to go about their lives completely normally while their locations are recorded and transmitted to the researchers via mobile phone networks.

This vital information is allowing researchers to understand the hazards and challenges these birds face on their long and complex spring and autumn migrations. So if key sites along their routes are damaged or destroyed they may struggle to survive. Bar-tailed godwits migrate in spring to breed on tundra and open boggy woodland in Northern Europe and Russia and this tagging project will also high-light the godwit’s winter feeding sites and put measures in place to protect them. The Wadden Sea off the coast in the northern region of the Netherlands is a major winter feeding and resting place for the godwits.

In the UK , The Wash is providing a vital and rich feeding area off the east coast of England for many wading birds including the bar-tailed godwit and in a bid to ensure that this important and special wetlands gets the protection it needs, the RSPB initiated an application for UNESCO World Heritage status in 2022. As a result this wetland has been added to the UK’s Tentative List of potential World Heritage sites. If the application is successful, The Wash will join iconic sites such as the Great Barrier Reef, Mount Etna and Machu Pichu as recognition of an outstanding site of World Heritage.

Report by Colin Strudwick.

Bar-tailed Godwit.