The great flights of great snipes: fact or fantasy?

By using geo-locators we have in recent years been able to reveal a most spectacular migratory behaviour, that of the great snipe. In late August, males of this medium-sized wader bird leave their breeding grounds in central Sweden and embark on a long and fast direct flight to sub-Saharan Africa. They then fly on average 5500 km in 2½ days, at an average speed of about 90 km/h. One individual was estimated to have flown 6900 km over 2½ days, at a speed of 115 km/h.
The combination of distance and speed seems to be a “world record” among migrating animals and when the first paper was published in 2011 it received a lot of media attention. Apparently, the great flights have now also reached the fantasy genre. In “The Magician’s Land”, a fantasy novel from 2014 by Lev Grossman, some of the characters want to transform themselves to migrating animals, to be able to reach Antarctica. One suggestion is they should turn into great snipes (!) and then the amazing capacity of these birds is referred to in quite some detail. 
It is nice to see how the wonders of nature can fit so well into a fantasy novel. Facts from nature just as they are. But given that “The Magician’s Land” is a real best-seller, and therefore is read by many more people than our original paper in Biology Letters, maybe there is a risk that the great snipe flights may soon be considered more fantasy than facts? (-:
“- I have heard that great snipes fly thousands of km in just a few days”.
“- Come on, that’s just something written in a fantasy novel!

//Åke Lindström
(Thanks to Phil Battley for informing us about the fantasy world!)

Read more in:
Klaassen, R. H. G., Alerstam, T., Carlsson, P., Fox, J. W. & Lindström, Å. 2011. Great flights by Great Snipes: long and fast non-stop migration over benign habitats. – Biol. Lett. 7:833–835.
Lindström, Å., Alerstam, T., Bahlenberg, P., Ekblom, R., Fox, J. W., Råghall, J. & Klaassen, R. H. G. 2016. The migration of the great snipe Gallinago media: intriguing variations on a grand theme. – J. Avian Biol. 47:321–334.

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