Connecticut Warbler makes epic 1600 km non-stop oceanic flight: what this really tells us

The tiny and rare Connecticut Warbler has astounded scientists who, after retrieving geolocators from tagged birds, learned just how incredible the birds’ migratory journeys really are. The route from the warbler’s breeding grounds in North America’s Boreal Forest to its winter range in the western Amazon Basin includes a 1600 km (1000 mile) non-stop over-ocean leg! This previously unknown fact solved a longstanding mystery about the bird’s migration habits and was discovered as part of a recently published study of birds captured and tagged in a remote region of the Boreal in Manitoba. The surprising result rivals similar data obtained by researchers tracking the Blackpoll Warbler.

It also leads scientists such as Jeff Wells PH.D., the Boreal Songbird Initiative’s Science and Policy Director, to speculate that perhaps this is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. With the use of  high-tech tracking devices attached to birds for scientific study becoming more common, results such as these create anticipation that similar discoveries about other migratory Boreal birds are around the corner.

Map Fall Migrations of 4 Connecticut Warblers courtesy of
However, the epic journey of the Connecticut Warbler isn’t just another amazing statistic to marvel at. Studies such as these also shed light on avian movements within the Boreal Forest habitat and and further highlight the area’s importance. Dubbed North America’s bird nursery, it is home to 325 breeding species. The vast Boreal landscape also provides crucial stopover sites for other birds that use it to rest and refuel as they travel to their breeding grounds in the most northern section of the forest or even further up in the Arctic. In practical terms, this means billions of birds rely on this region as prime habitat.

The Boreal Forest is also the largest intact forest remaining on Earth and part of a group of five such forests around the world. This distinction makes it one of a few remaining healthy habitats not only for birds, but fish and other wildlife affected by habitat loss further south.

Boreal Birds Need Half

Current conservation science maintains that preserving large tracts of habitat as opposed to piecemeal conservation efforts of smaller parcels is key to confronting species declines. According to a report published jointly by the Boreal Songbird Initiative and Ducks Unlimited,  the need for preserving large tracts of forest is essential because the songbirds and waterfowl that breed there occur in low densities over a large territory. This in in contrast to colonial nesting species and species that nest in a concentrated area that can benefit from small-scale conservation efforts. According to the report, “conservation of Boreal birds, in contrast, requires expansive landscape-scale habitat conservation to ensure that a large proportion of the breeding populations are maintained within areas free of large-scale industrial development.”

Conservation of Boreal birds, in contrast, requires expansive landscape-scale habitat conservation to ensure that a large proportion of the breeding populations are maintained within areas free of large-scale industrial development.

The BSI’s Boreal Birds need Half campaign wants to ensure that large portions of this still pristine forest remain intact and are requesting that at least half of the boreal forest region be protected and remain free of large-scale industrial disturbance.

For many songbirds this is action is considered crucial. For example, the elusive Connecticut Warbler has suffered drastic population declines (there are now 60% fewer of these birds since 1970)  and its range includes the most heavily logged and fragmented portion of the southern Boreal Forest.

What can you do?

You can learn more about the Boreal Forest and sign the Boreal Birds Need Half petition on the BSI website.

Boreal Songbird Initiative’s Science and Policy Director to be keynote speaker at BPQ’s Anniversary Dinner

Jeff Wells will be the keynote speaker at Bird Protection Quebec’s 100th Anniversary Dinner on November 4th, 2017. Find out more about this special event and how to buy tickets here.

Sources: Image by Emily McKinnon and map courtesy of  Boreal Songbird Initiative