Scientists are still trying to figure outhow birds getaround. They also want to understand how birds from thesame species may be isolated from each other for months, butstill somehow know exactly when to return home to meet upwith their mates again in the spring. It was once thoughtthat bird pairs stayed together when they migrated, but nowbiologists think this isn’t the case.
Patricia Reaney writes that biologists are studyingIcelandic migratory birds called black-tailed godwits thatrarely see each other, spend winters in different countriesand don’t communicate for long periods but can stillcoordinate their journeys, from different countries athousand miles apart, so they arrive back at their Icelandbreeding grounds within a few days of each other.
Reseacher Jill Gill says, “When males and females from apair arrive back on their breeding territory in the spring,they do so with remarkable synchrony. We’re astonished by it.”
Scientists once thought that males and females of migratorybird species stayed together during the winter and traveledback together to their breeding grounds. But that turns outnot to be true. Gill says, “In this particular species, themales and females are going to completely differentlocations, often different countries, so they are winteringon average 1,000 miles apart. And yet they are getting backsomehow to the breeding ground within two or three days ofone another.”
It takes about a month for the entire population of godwitsto get back to Iceland from their various wintering spotsaround Europe. In the rare case that one of the breedingpartners doesn’t make it back, the other partner findsanother male or female. “We have had two cases of divorce,”says Gill. “In both cases the female got back before the male.
“We know they don’t meet up in the wintering grounds andthey don’t meet up on passage. The first time they see eachother is when they arrive on the territory,” says Gill. “Oursuspicion is that what we see in the godwits may be true formany other species as well.”
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