Birds that can fly practically forever


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New research using data loggers tagged to thirteen common swifts has revealed that these birds were capable of remaining airborne for months at a time.

The researchers found that some of the birds made a few brief night landings in winter but remained airborne for 99% of the time. Three birds didn’t touch down once in the entire ten months….“Common swifts have evolved to be very efficient flyers, with streamlined body shapes and long and narrow wings, generating lift force at low cost,” says Anders Hedenström, a study co-author and a biologist at Lund University in Sweden. The birds even eat while airborne, snatching flying termites, ballooning spiders and other aerial insects for in-flight meals.

Hedenström says that common swifts have adapted to a low-energy lifestyle, but his team does not yet know whether the birds sleep while aloft. “Most animals suffer dramatically from far less sleep loss,” says Niels Rattenborg, a neurobiologist at Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany. “But these birds seem to have found a trick through evolution that allows them to get by on far less sleep.”

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2 comments

  • Andrew_W

    Many animals, including dolphins and many birds only turn off one side of their brain at a time when they sleep, I guess the swift manages to do it while in flight.

  • wayne

    Andrew_W–
    (hey)
    Interesting stuff.
    If I’m not mistaken, Dolphins manage to breath even when they “sleep.” (?)
    (as an aside– most of our “sleep research” has historically been derived from the study of Cat’s.)

    There are specific high-potency benzodiazepines that have an ability to disconnect higher-level brain functioning in humans, from differently ordered functioning such as (sleep) walking, driving a car, and flying across-country (in an airplane that is, not via the Swift, method).
    (The short-term, hi-potency varieties, such as Versed & other hypnotics, amongst the benzo anti-anxiety class of meds, Librium & Valium being the prototypes.)

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