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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Come Fly With The Godwits!



I'm delighted to share the story of the bar-tailed godwits. Every year these birds make a marathon migration from their summer home in Alaska to their winter home in New Zealand. This bird's story is very special to me. For thirteen years, I lived near Christchurch, New Zealand.  Along with other New Zealanders, I eagerly awaited the godwits arrival each year in September.

Here I am the day the godwits arrived this year.
Check out the headline--"Godwits Are Back!"

That always signified winter was over and spring had arrived.  So, when scientists tracking the birds reported they were nearing land, bird watchers rushed to the shores.  Then as soon as the first group of godwits were spotted, the news was broadcast on the radio and television.  The big cathedral in Christchurch also rang its bells.  Everywhere banners were raised and crowds rushed to the estuaries to cheer the arriving birds.






Now open the book and enjoy the story. Then have fun digging deeper with these discovery activities.

Check out the aerial view of Cape Avinof, Alaska (the godwits' starting place) by visiting this website.  Next, do a Google search to find out how many miles it is between Alaska and New Zealand, the godwits' destination.  Now, think about how you would travel from Kipnuk Airport, the closet airport to Cape Avinof, Alaska to Christchurch, New Zealand, one of godwits destinations in New Zealand.  Check airline websites to answer the following questions:


Can you fly non-stop, the way the godwits do?  If not, how many stops do you have to make along the way?

How much will it cost you to fly between Alaska and New Zealand?
The trip isn't free for the godwits, either.  However, what it costs the birds isn't money.  Read page 15 of The Long, Long Journey to find out what it costs these birds to make such a long flight.

So you learned what it costs the godwits is energy--what they get from eating and storing body fat.  Adult godwits have to double their weight between June and September.  Chicks have to both grow up and put on weight.

Just for fun, figure out what you would weigh if you doubled your weight to make this long trip.






Look at the godwit's long legs.
Such long legs help it wade in the mud to find food.
Now, try this activity to find out how the godwit uses its long beak to find and pick up food.

First, cut the top off an empty gallon-sized milk jug. Fill it nearly full of wet sand. Next, have an adult partner bury five pennies in the sand and smooth the top flat to hide the coins.  Then use chopsticks or two pencils held like chopsticks to probe the sand for the pennies. Once you find them, use the chopsticks to pluck the pennies out of the sand.


Take a close look at this picture of godwits in flight.  Look at how they hold their wings and head.

How do you think holding their head and wings this way helps them fly?

Check out what the godwits are doing with their long legs while they fly.  Why do you think the birds hold their legs in this position rather than just letting them hang down below their body.



Now, spend some time watching your local birds take off and fly. Draw a picture of one of these birds in flight.  Be sure to show how they stretch out their wings, how they hold their head, and what they do with their legs.

Just for fun, play this game to find out how godwits stay together in a flock even while flying through thick clouds and heavy rain.  Ask six of your friends to stand in a circle around you. Close your eyes and ask them to make noises one at a time.  Try pointing to each person as they sound off.  Have your friends score a point for you each time you point at the person making the sound.  Now you know that being noisy helps birds keep track of each other and fly together.

The godwits take advantage of the fact that earth's northern and southern hemisphere's have summer at opposite times of the year. They always live where it's comfortably summer and there's plenty to eat year round.  To do that, though, means the godwits have to make a Long, Long Journey.

1 comment:

  1. Hi I live in Southshore Christchurch NZ, lucky enough to be able to study the godwits. Most have recently departed for their trip to Alaska via the Yellow Sea. The numbers are declining. We had 1530 this year compared to 1700 last year. Sadly the cathedral bells no longer ring when they arrive in spring as the 2011 earthquake caused the cathedral to fall. Our godwits at Southshore apparently have a good life here and are mostly left alone. Many of the locals have taken these birds into their hearts. By godwit standards, ours here are quite tame and used to people so you can get quite close to them. I hope these amazing birds will somehow be able to survive through climate change and the loss of some of their habitat in the Yellow Sea due to developement. I have watched many groups flying away, usually they leave in the evenings when it is still. What a wonderful thing to witness as they take to the skies in their V formation, and knowing the distance these little creatures have to fly never ceases to amaze me.

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