updated 8/7/2006 6:40:01 PM ET 2006-08-07T22:40:01

Sooty shearwaters may not look like much, but when it comes to travel they put marathoners, cyclists and pretty much everyone else to shame.

These gray, 16-inch birds cover 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers) annually in search of food, the longest migration ever recorded electronically, according to a report in this week’s online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers led by Scott Shaffer of the University of California at Santa Cruz, tagged shearwaters to track their movements electronically.

The birds, which can have a wingspan of 43 inches (1.1 meters), followed a figure-eight circuit over the Pacific Ocean. They ranged north to the Bering Sea, south to Antarctica, east to Chile, and west to Japan and New Zealand, covering more than 40,000 miles in 200 days, the researchers said.

They said the long trip probably helps the birds take advantage of rich feeding grounds throughout the Pacific Ocean.

The research was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore and David and Lucille Packard foundations.

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