Cathedral bells ring out as New Zealand welcomes godwits after longest migration

·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Alamy</span>
Photograph: Alamy

Thousands of migrating birds have been welcomed back to New Zealand to the sound of cathedral bells, after making one of the longest avian migration flights in the world.

Eastern bar-tail godwits, or kuaka in Māori, landed on Motueka sandspit at the top of the South Island on Tuesday, where they rested following the 10,000km (6,200 miles) non-stop flight from the Arctic, RNZ reported.

Across Nelson, the nearest city, the bells rang out to celebrate the arrival, and cathedral staff read out a prayer of thanks.

Bar-tailed godwits make the mammoth journey across the Pacific from their breeding ground in the Arctic to New Zealand every year.

Last year, one godwit, said to have the aerodynamic build of a “jet fighter” was tracked flying more than 12,000km (7,500 miles) from Alaska to New Zealand, setting a new world record for avian non-stop flight.

Related: Hear be kiwis: New Zealand celebrates as distinctive cry of iconic bird returns

This year’s trip was not without its hurdles. On Monday, the Department of Conservation reported that one unlucky godwit, who was being tracked, was forced to take a huge u-turn over the Pacific ocean and finished up back at his Alaskan take-off point after 57 hours of constant flight.

The adult male bird, known as 4BRWB because of the bands on his legs, took off from tidal flats in Alaska’s Yukon-Kuskokwim delta on 11 September before encountering strong winds 2,000km into his journey and turning back after 33 hours of outward bound flight.

Other godwits who left the Yukon at the same time as 4BRWB made it to New Zealand, but it is feasible others also turned back, ornithologist at Massey University Phil Battley said.

The bird’s u-turn mid-migration was unusual: “Over the years we’ve tracked about 70 godwits leaving Alaska, and this is the first we know has had to turn back because of bad winds,” he said.

In New Zealand some 80,000 godwits arrive and move into harbours and estuaries across the two islands. The species is in decline, due to the collapsing food supply in the Yellow Sea.

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