Coastal Lighthouse View, Point Roadknight
Great Ocean Road
Crested Terns feeding at Point Roadknight
The two million migratory shorebirds that visit Australia each year are born in the arctic tundra of Russia and Alaska or the rugged deserts and steppes of Mongolia and northern China. Shorebirds have to grow up incredibly fast in order to take on a migration that is virtually unmatched in difficulty. When chicks are only six- to seven-weeks-old the parents often leave on their southward migration. By eight weeks old the chicks are fully grown, without their parents, and must fly south or risk freezing in the coming winter snows. In order to undertake the migration to the southern hemisphere, juveniles begin a feeding frenzy that packs on weight at an incredible 2-5% per day, increasing their
body mass by up to 80% until they are 55% fat. Just before they leave, their organs shrink, their heart grows and their blood thickens. Like an overinflated football with wings, they set off southward, flapping constantly and burning fat at up to one gram per hour.
The most difficult part of the journey is navigating the huge distances of up to 13,000 km with no parents to guide them. Evidence suggests that these birds can navigate by the
position of the sun and moon, and the movement of the stars, as well as seeing the lines of polarity in the sky (like seeing a compass). They fly non-stop for days at a time, refuelling at rich intertidal areas along the East Asian Australasian flyway. Unfortunately, these critical areas are being destroyed at an alarming rate, driving population declines in many shorebird species. Juveniles who make the distance remain here for one to five years before migrating back to the northern hemisphere to breed as adults.
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