Monday, September 8, 2014

The Incredible Flight of a Willow Flycatcher

Harrison Illinois to Minatitlan Veracruz:
flight distance 1378 miles

Willow flycatcher

Willow flycatcher feeds 3 babies in nest
at Dunson farm, VA
We have perhaps four pairs of willow flycatchers breeding near our house in VA and recently were able to document two nests in red twigged dogwoods.  This constitutes a new record for late summer breeding for VA and allowed us to get some additional insight into the breeding habits of this uncommon flycatcher.  Our last indication of willows in the area was approximately the end of August.  The second nest fledged about Aug. 20.  So we were very interested in the report below about a willow flycatcher banded in Harrison, Illinois, Aug. 30, being recaptured in Minatitlan, Veracruz, Mexico two days later.  We do not have the exact times of capture nor do we know the flight track taken by this migrating flycatcher.  But assuming a 48 hour flight directly from Illinois to Veracruz crossing the Gulf of Mexico this yields a distance of about 1378 miles with an average flight speed of about 29 mph!!!  For such a tiny bird this is simply a remarkable feat of endurance, even if it were lucky enough to get a tail wind to reduce its energy expenditure from flying.  This is an another example of how little we know about the amazing migratory feats of birds which travel twice a year from South to North America. 

Bill Dunson

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