2TK, the migratory bird from Canada who fell in love with the Uruguayan seaside resort

2TK, the migratory bird from Canada who fell in love with the Uruguayan seaside resort

Ruddy Turnstone 2TK can be recognized by his ankle tape.

The first cold winds announce the arrival of winter in the playground of Uruguayan jet-setters, Punta del Este.

It’s time for ‘2TK’ to fly out of the lavish resort and return to Canada, a feat of endurance that fascinates scientists and delights local birdwatchers.

Identifiable by a plastic band on one ankle bearing the name 2TK and a nine-digit metal band on the other, this Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) spent the Southern Hemisphere summer on the rocks off the Atlantic coast of Uruguay feeding on mussels, alongside oystercatchers and other birds.

When food became scarce in the arctic tundra of Canada as winter set in, the turnstone migrated 15,000 kilometers (9,300 miles) to South America.

By April, 2TK had grown “bigger” and shed its gray plumage for a tinge of brown and orange before returning to its native lands to breed, said Alvaro Perez Tort, 48, an amateur photographer and member of the Punta del Este birdwatching. company that has been documenting the bird’s travels to Uruguay since 2016.

“2TK stole my heart,” Perez told AFP.

Each year, he awaits the return of the male Turnstone to document it “as much as possible” to share on, the continental database of banded birds maintained by the United States Geological Survey.

Punta del Este Birdwatching Society member Alvaro Perez Tort documents 2TK's visits to Uruguay since 2016

Alvaro Perez Tort, a member of the Punta del Este Birdwatching Society, has been documenting 2TK’s visits to Uruguay since 2016.

“What’s interesting is that a banded bird has a story: there’s a city, a country or a distant place, a journey and people,” Perez said.

Photographing the bird “we feel like we’re part” of that story, he added, noting he’s seen 2TK eight times at the southern tip of Uruguay.

Bird ‘puzzle’

2TK is about 14 years old, according to the Bird Banding Laboratory, which organizes the banding of one million birds each year in North America for conservation purposes.

It was banded in 2012 in Delaware Bay on the US Atlantic coast, an important stopover for many migratory species.

For the head of the laboratory Antonio Celis-Murillo, the information provided by amateur ornithologists is essential to “constitute the puzzle” of the movements of each bird.

“Our work is successful thanks to the general public, to anyone who reports a banded bird,” he told AFP.

2TK measures just over 20 centimeters but has already traveled around 350,000 kilometers, experts estimate, an equivalent distance

2TK measures just over 20 centimeters but has already traveled about 350,000 kilometers, experts estimate, a distance equivalent to nine times around the planet.

“The information reported is so simple but valuable, because scientifically it tells us a lot.

“Especially those reports from South America that we miss,” he added.

These details allow scientists to trace the behavior of each species: their migration routes, where they stop, how long they stay there, how they live.

All of this helps to refine conservation projects.

According to a 2019 study published in Science magazine, some three billion wild birds have disappeared from North America since 1970.

‘A lot of food’

Habitat loss affecting all biodiversity “clearly shows its impact on migratory birds”, which face ever-increasing difficulties in their extraordinary journeys, said Adrian Azpiroz, a biologist and ornithologist who promotes ecotourism initiatives.

And if the turnstones are not threatened like other waders, their population is nevertheless decreasing.

A turnstone and an oystercatcher foraging on the rocks of Punta del Este, Uruguay

A turnstone and an oystercatcher foraging on the rocks of Punta del Este, Uruguay.

Of the estimated 300,000 on the mainland, only a few hundred or thousands winter on the Uruguayan coast. Others prefer southern Brazil or Argentina.

Scientists believe these long-distance migratory birds have favorite winter retreats and are remarkably loyal, returning year after year, just like 2TK.

Uruguay’s many coastal lagoons are “very productive food-wise” for waders, Azpiroz said.

This is why 2TK has probably traveled some 350,000 kilometers in its lifetime, the equivalent of nine times around the planet.

According to biologist and bird expert Adrian Azpiroz, Uruguay's coastal lagoons attract migratory birds

According to biologist and bird expert Adrian Azpiroz, Uruguay’s coastal lagoons attract migratory birds.

It’s a truly staggering feat for a bird measuring just over 20 centimeters (eight inches).

Experts are still studying the sophisticated physiological and neurological mechanisms that allow it to recognize a place with such precision after a week-long air journey of thousands of miles.

Many Uruguayan birdwatchers like to think that the same thing that keeps them coming back to Punta del Este again and again is what also caught 2TK’s attention.

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© 2022 AFP

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