Which Birds Migrate the Farthest?

Depending on where you live, you might look up into the sky and notice birds on their annual passage to warmer destinations. Birds migrate primarily for food or nesting purposes.

Jul 6, 2023byDebbie Stevens
which birds migrate farthest

Our feathered Olympians achieve remarkable feats during their migrating pattern. Some fly at high altitudes, such as the Bar-headed goose, which can soar over the Himalayas at 21,120 feet (8,850 meters). Or, the Bar-tailed Godwit, which flies 6,835 miles (11,000km) without taking a break.

With so many accomplishments under their feathers, which birds migrate the farthest?

5. Adélie Penguin


Perhaps not the most apparent long-distance migratory bird. After all, penguins have flippers and waddle on land. However, their wings have evolved for swimming, and they are expert swimmers reaching up to speeds of 15 mph (24 kph).

Adélie penguins have a short breeding season in harsh Antarctic conditions. They lay eggs mid-November, and chicks are at sea by mid-February, when they are safest. Annually, they migrate before returning to their breeding colonies, completing a round trip by walking and swimming 8,000 – 11,000 miles (13,000 – 17,500 km).

Penguins are sun followers. They hunt visually and need light to spot food. The long summer sun of the South Pole means they can catch fish 24 hours a day.

4. The Wandering Albatross


The wingspan of the Wandering Albatross reaches up to an incredible 11 feet (3.5 meters). It is the largest of all living birds. Their wings allow them to effortlessly stay in the air for 10,000 miles (16,000 km) in one stretch. They can circumnavigate the globe in 46 days. Undeterred by windy weather, they gather speeds of 67 mph.

The Wandering Albatross doesn’t migrate annually. Instead, they take to the air between breeding seasons, spending up to five years without touching solid ground. They land on the sea to feed and smell fish up to 12 miles away. They are opportunist feeders often sighted near fishing vessels hoping for an easy meal. It means they get caught up in fishing lines and dragged underwater.

The large seabird is shrouded in superstition. Many seafarers believe if you see one, it will bring good luck. However, if you kill one, it will bring bad luck and misfortune.

3. Red Knot


The Red Knot is a short, stocky shorebird. In winter, it is grey and pale. In summer, their chest turns brick-red, and their upper part is speckled rust brown. It is a long-distance migrator covering around 20,000 miles (32,000 km) round trip from the tip of South America to its breeding grounds in the Arctic. It is an impressive distance for a small bird with a 20-inch (50 cm) wingspan.

Sometimes the Red Knot is nicknamed Moonbird, after the banding of a Red Knot, in 1995. At age two, the tracked Red Knot, B95, clocked up the mileage to the moon and back during its 19 years of a migratory pattern.

2. Shearwater


Shearwaters get their name from their flying style. They do a few rapid wing flaps and then shear across the top of ocean waves with stiff wings. They have a wingspan of 3 – 4 feet (100 to 122cm).

There are many Shearwater species. However, the two with a reputation for being long-distance migrators are the Sooty and the Short-tailed shearwaters. A Sooty flies 40,000 miles (64,000km), and a Short-tail 18,600 miles (30,000km).

Shearwaters don’t fly directly on their migration from the Southern to the Northern Hemisphere. Their migration path is a figure of eight shapes. They don’t hang around, either, as a Short-tail has a speed of 53m/h (85km/h) and can fly 621 miles daily (1,000 km).

Another impressive trait of Shearwaters is they can dive 230 feet (70 meters) below seawater to feed on fish and squid.

1. Arctic Tern


The Arctic Tern might lack size, but they score big regarding endurance. The tiny seabird weighs around 3.5oz (100g), making it lighter than an iPhone. Its body length ranges between 11 – 15.4 inches (28 – 39 cm), and it has a wing span of 29 – 33 inches (74 – 84 cm).

The ultimate long-distance migrator holds the record for the longest annual migration. According to a study by Newcastle University, the Arctic Tern made a round trip of 59.652 miles (96,000km) from the Farne Islands, Northumberland, UK, to the Weddell Sea, Antarctica. It broke the previous record of 56,545 miles (91,000 km) from the Netherlands by another Arctic Tern.

Arctic Terns prefer sunlight, brightening the ocean water and making the fish and insects more visible. They migrate from the Arctic summer to the Antarctic summer. They get two summers yearly and experience more daylight than any other animal.

Also, Arctic Terns’ featherlight weight makes it effortless to glide through the air, and warmer summer weather makes the conditions more favorable. Without stopping, they fly 5,000 – 6,000 miles (8,000 – 10,000km) and can eat and sleep while gliding.

This remarkable little bird lives to about 30 years old, meaning it could fly up to a staggering 1.9 million miles (3 million kilometers) over its lifespan.

Debbie Stevens
byDebbie Stevens

Debbie has surrounded herself with dogs and horses and has lived on a small holding. Nowadays, she travels extensively in her converted Land Rover Ambulance with her Springer Spaniel, Twig, and rescue Jack Russel Terrier, Rolo. They love to hike, run, swim, and kayak together. Debbie takes inspiration from her springer, ‘to live life like a spaniel,’ and shares their energy and enthusiasm for life.