Bird Migrates West From Iceland, East from Scandinavia Skip to content
Red-necked phalarope migration patterns

Bird Migrates West From Iceland, East from Scandinavia

An international study has found that red-necked phalaropes which breed in Iceland have a completely different migration pattern from their cousins in Scandinavia and Russia. While the Icelandic breeders migrate west to winter by the eastern Pacific, their Scandinavian and Russian cousins travel east to the Arabian Sea. Due to the challenge of studying small birds at sea, the migration patterns of the bird were elusive until recently.

Red-necked phalarope.
[/media-credit] Red-necked phalarope.

The red-necked phalarope is a relatively small bird, measuring around 18cm (7.1in) in length and weighing about 35g (1.2oz) on average. Remarkably, members of the species which breed in Iceland and other parts of the north-eastern North Atlantic migrate around 10,000km (6,200mi) oversea to their wintering grounds. Their Nordic and Russian cousins, however, were found to migrate 6,000km (3,700mi) southeast to the Arabian Sea, a migration route that lies mostly over land.

Longer migration, longer wings

Red-necked phalaropes that fly west to winter in the Pacific were found to have proportionally longer wings – unsurprisingly, perhaps, as their migration route is significantly longer. The species is one of the last to return to Iceland in the spring, where it is first spotted, on average, on May 8. The species is probably best known for its unusual mating system, with reversed sex roles where polyandry takes place and the male cares for eggs and chicks.

The results of the study can read online in English.

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