We documented fat loads and abdominal organ sizes of Bar-tailed Godwits (Limosa lapponica baueri) that died after colliding against a radar dome on the Alaska Peninsula, most likely just after takeoff on a trans-Pacific flight of 11,000 km, and of birds of the same subspecies just before northward departure from New Zealand. We compared these data with data on body composition of godwits of the smaller lapponica subspecies obtained during a northward stopover in The Netherlands. As a consequence of high amounts of subcutaneous and intraperitoneal fat, and very small fat-free mass, Bar-tailed Godwits from Alaska had relative fat loads that are among the highest ever recorded in birds (ca. 55% of fresh body mass). Compared with northbound godwits from New Zealand, the Alaskan birds had very small gizzards, livers, kidneys, and guts. This suggests that upon departure, long-distance migrants dispense with parts of their 'metabolic machinery' that are not directly necessary during flight, and rebuild these organs upon arrival at the migratory destination.
Additional Publication Details
Guts don't fly: Small digestive organs in obese Bar-tailed Godwits