Israeli ornithologists tracked two tiny seabirds during their migratory flight from their nesting ground in Atlit, south of Haifa, all the way to Mozambique in south-east Africa.
Although the Israeli little terns’ (sternula albifrons) winter colony was widely speculated to be in southern Africa, this marks the first time that scientists have tracked the precise location and distance to the bird’s seasonal outpost.
Weighing just 45 grams each (about 1.6 oz.), the two little terns were found to fly 6,251 kilometers (almost 4,000 miles) to reach their Mozambique getaway. Wildlife conservationists from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SAPI) were excited by the find, pinpointing the birds’ journey to what is their furthest known winter breeding ground to date.
“It’s quite exciting to see the terns healthy and hearty at the site they chose to spend the winter,” Yosef Chiat, from SAPI’s ornithology department, told the Hebrew daily Yedioth on Monday.
As a migratory seabird, the tern breeds in waterways and coastal regions in Europe and Asia, flying to warmer pastures in Africa, or Australia during the winter — only to return to their breeding grounds in the spring.
Commonly found in Israel in the past, the species is becoming increasingly rare in the region due to the destruction of natural habitats, pollution and human disturbance.
Wildlife conservationists say that the two little terns featured in the experiment were born at Atlit’s salt water pools, 20 kilometers south of Haifa – one of the few remaining breeding grounds for the bird in Israel.