The Great Snipe is a nondescript chubby little shore bird with a long beak - Not one that would be considered a great athlete, by any stretch of the imagination. However, a recent study has revealed that these seemingly non-aerodynamic birds, not only fly non-stop for long periods of time during their annual migration, but do so, at record speeds.
The brown birds that are about the size of a pigeon spend their summers in Eastern Europe and winters in Central Africa, a distance that can range anywhere from 2,800 to 4,000 miles. In May 2009, a team of researchers led by Dr. Raymond Klaasen from Sweden's Lund University fitted ten Great Snipes with geo-locating tags - tiny devices that allow scientists to figure out when and where the birds travel - and let them loose. The following year they re-captured three of the birds and retrieved the tags. What they discovered, was quite amazing.
All three birds had flown nonstop to Central Africa in August of 2009 - One had flown a whopping 4,225 miles in just 3.5 days. The second one had covered a distance of 3,833 miles in three days, while the third had managed to traverse 2,870 miles in a mere 48 hours or two days. Even more stunning was that these birds had traveled at speeds that averaged about 50 miles per hour - making it the fastest known migration ever.
While many birds migrate longer distances, they do so, over a period of a few months, resting and feeding in between - However, despite the fact the Great Snipe had plenty of opportunities, it did not stop. What was even more impressive is that they did the entire flight on their own might, with no assistance from the wind.
The researchers believe that the tiny bird is able to do this incredible direct flight because of all the fat it accumulates in its body in the autumn, which it then uses as fuel.
Native to North Eastern Europe and North Western Russia, Great Snipes breed in marshlands and wet meadows where they forage in the soft mud, looking for insects and earthworms. Thanks to their brown color, they are difficult to spot in the muddy environment they reside in. Sadly though, thanks to loss of habitat and the hunting patterns, these amazing flight birds on the list of endangered animals.