A bird weighing no more than five pennies (about five ounces) has been recorded making an annual round-trip migration of just over 15,000 miles. A Ruddy Turnstone carrying a one-gram geolocater on its back established that figure. Ruddy Turnstones are annual migrants here, seen most often on the shore of Lake Superior or other large northern Minnesota lakes in the spring. "Our" birds, however, are not the ones making that long trip.

The bird in question nested in northern Siberia and spent its winter in Australia. Its first flight north in spring covered 4,500 miles, Australia to Taiwan. It refueled on tidal flats there for six days before flying 3,000 miles to nesting territory in Siberia. Heading south in the fall, the bird flew a first leg of about 4,700 miles to Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean, then again flying 3,000 miles on the last leg to Australia. Understand, these are non-stop flights fueled by stored fat.

The bird puts on that extra weight by heavy feeding before each leg of the journey. It chooses wintering and nesting locations in part because of food availability. Very important is appropriate feeding habitat along the journey, at intervals the bird can accommodate. That is why bird conservationists are concerned not only with nesting and wintering habitat, but also with those stopover locations vital as rest and refueling opportunities.

Depending upon species, migrating birds use a wide variety of habitats to enable long migration flights. They might feed in tidal flats, along lakeshores, in prairie, in river bottoms, in deciduous or conifer woods. There is no one key habitat type that needs to be maintained in a natural condition.

Members of the Victorian Wader Study Group in Australia gathered the information on the migrating turnstone. They captured the bird, and attached the geolocater (also called a data logger) to one of its legs. The device sent a signal morning and evening to mark the bird's location.

The distance of these flights is pretty amazing to me, although many bird species make trips of similar distances. Equally amazing is creation of a one-gram device that can send a radio signal to a satellite thousands of miles overhead.

This Ruddy Turnstone  was photographed in Mexico in January 2010.