Tiny house swift flies for months across the Pacific Ocean
Survives the marathon trek but dies of starvation after arriving in B.C.
A tiny bird, no bigger than the palm of a hand, has bewildered scientists with its months-long flight across the biggest ocean in the world.
The house swift, a species native to east Asia, had never before been sighted on the American continent.
It turned up in Ladner, B.C in May 2012, and UBC zoologists have just confirmed that the bird flew across the Pacific Ocean — a trip that could have taken up to 10 months.
Ildiko Szabo is a curator at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, where the bird's remains are currently on display and the lead researcher in identifying the bird's origins.
She told CBC's The Early Edition guest host Laura Lynch that birds often go off course but said this was an extreme case.
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"Birds get lost regularly, and they end up in places they really shouldn't be," said Szabo. "This particular swift is exciting, because it is the first time one of his brethren has arrived in the Americas."
It is a significant discovery, Szabo said, and means that the house swift will be added to bird biodiversity lists across Vancouver, the province and the continent.
'These birds are made for flying'
Szabo said she is certain the bird didn't hitch a ride on a ship or by some other means because of forensic evidence on the bird.
Other than being nearly emaciated, the bird was in good condition with no broken bones, traces of oil on its feathers or other indications of trauma.
Swifts don't typically roost on ships, she added, but are known for flying extreme distances. They can stay in the air for months on end; they sleep in the air by turning off one side of their brain at a time and collect bugs to eat as they fly.
"They do everything they need without landing," Szabo said. "These birds are made for flying."
But maybe not made for flying across oceans.
"Normally, they are flying over land and there are lots of insects in the air," she said. "He probably didn't find enough food once he was truly lost."
Szabo said she suspects he starved to death shortly after arriving, as he had depleted his fat stores and was half the weight he should have been.
To listen to Ildiko Szabo talk about the discovery, click on the audio link below:
With files from The Early Edition.