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Around the world in 46 days, a bird's journey

A grey-headed albatross. Image courtesy of British Antarctic Survey.

Where have you been in the last 46 days? Did you fly around the world? Did you occasionally stop to eat squid and fish? From tip to tip, do your wings measure about 2 meters or a little more than six feet? Was there a funny little contraption attached to your leg that told scientists where you were every day for 18 months or more?

If you're nodding your black and orange and yellow beak up and down, then you're probably the speedy, gray-headed albatross that scientists mention in a new study appearing in the 14 January issue of the journal Science.

If you have a black, orange and yellow beak but you didn't fly around the world in 46 days, then you might be one of the 21 other albatrosses the scientists studied in an attempt to understand where your magnificent, globe-circling species goes during the 18 months between breeding seasons.

If you're reading this but you don't have a beak or wings, you should know that the results of the new Science study could help to ensure the survival of albatrosses the most threatened family of birds.

The scientists found that some gray-headed albatrosses fly around the world, others loop the globe twice and still others stay relatively close to their breeding grounds in the southern reaches of the Atlantic Ocean.

By knowing where the birds spend their time, it's easier to see which land areas and ocean zones require the most protection from the dangers of commercial fishing, said Science author John Croxall from the British Atlantic Survey in Cambridge, United Kingdom.

The scientists say their findings strengthen the idea that protecting the albatross family of birds requires help from commercial fisherman. Fisherman with ships in the waters that gray-headed albatross fly above should take precautions that minimize the number these birds caught in their hooks and fishing lines, Croxall says.


Click here to see more pictures of birds

Video: Download animation showing global circumnavigation by a non-breeding grey-headed albatross tracked using a leg-mounted light level logger.

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