Subscribe to BirdNote

Sign up to receive a weekly email preview of the following week's shows!

Sign Up
Support BirdNote

Help BirdNote tell more stories, reach more people, and inspire action.


You are here

Long-distance Champions of Migration - With Scott Weidensaul

Arctic Terns defend their title!
© Zak Pohlen View Large

Arctic Terns are the long-distance champions of migration. Thanks to satellite transmitters and geolocators, we know that some Arctic Terns travel more than 50,000 miles annually! Scott Weidensaul, naturalist and author of Living on the Wind, says these technology tools “make the issue of bird migration all the more wonderful and awe-inspiring . . . and almost literally unbelievable.”

Full Transcript


BirdNote ®

Long Distance Champions of Migration

With Scott Weidensaul

Interviewed by Todd and Chris Peterson

This is BirdNote.  

[Calls of Arctic Terns]

We used to think that Arctic Terns traveled 25,000 miles a year, making them the long-distance champions of migration. However, with the advent of satellite transmitters and light-level geolocators, the terns were, for a time, knocked off their pedestal. Scott Weidensaul, author of Living on the Wind, explains:

“We found that Sooty Shearwaters from Australia were travelling up to 40,000 miles a year…”

[Calls of Sooty Shearwaters]

But now, for the time being, the terns have regained the title.

“More recently…scientists working with Arctic Terns in Greenland and Iceland have discovered some of those Arctic Terns are travelling 47,000 miles a year. And now Danish researchers have found “their” Arctic Terns are travelling 53,000 miles a year.

And even here in the Gulf of Maine, where we’re sitting and talking, the Arctic Terns that breed on the islands off Maine are traveling all the way down…to the South Atlantic. Some of them are hooking around Africa and spending the winter in the Indian Ocean and then coming all the way back here.

These kind of discoveries are going to accelerate as the technology gets smaller and smaller and smaller. Every one of these discoveries just makes the whole issue of bird migration all the more wonderful and awe-inspiring and almost literally unbelievable.”

[Calls of Arctic Terns]

Today’s show brought to you by the Bobolink Foundation. Hear more stories about the amazing migration of birds, at our website, [Calls of Arctic Terns]


Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Calls of Arctic Terns [105790] recorded by G.A. Keller, and [137558] recorded by G.Vyn; calls of Sooty Shearwaters [992] recorded by F.N. Robinson.

Ambient recorded at Hog Island Camp, Bremen, Maine by C. Peterson.

BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

© 2013 Tune In to    December  2013/2019  Narrator: Michael Stein

ID#     migration-18-2013-12-13 migration-18    Zoom Disk 1 Track 14 6:41+

Weidensaul, Scott, Living on the Wind, Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds. North Point Press, New York. 1999.

Sights & Sounds

Related topics:

Related field notes: