Alpine birds fly 200 days non-stop?

Bird researchers in Switzerland have gathered what they say is the first unequivocal evidence of birds flying non-stop for as long as 200 days. They feed on “aerial plankton” — airborne insects — and even sleep in flight.

The research team captured six Alpine swifts ( Tachymarptis melba ) in 2011 and fitted them with tiny electronic monitoring devices before they migrated more than 3,000 kilometres to their wintering grounds in Africa. The devices tracked the birds’ location and measured changes in body position and movement every four minutes.

When the birds returned in the spring to their breeding grounds in Switzerland, the team recaptured three of them and downloaded the data from the devices.

The data indicated that the birds had been in the air continuously for nearly seven months, either flapping their wings or gliding, although the researchers said they may have landed briefly in gaps between measurements.

They greatly increased their gliding at night and were apparently on the wing the entire time they were wintering south of the Sahara, too.

The researchers said the findings were not surprising because ornithologists had claimed for long that some swifts might stay airborne for almost their whole lifetime.

Most birds rest on land or water after hunting or a long migration since flying requires a considerable amount of energy for locomotive control: The birds must constantly adapt their position to airflow.

Up to now, only marine animals such as dolphins had been known to be capable of such long-term locomotion (they sleep by resting one half of their brain at a time).

“Our data imply that all vital physiological processes, including sleep, can be perpetuated during flight,” the researchers wrote.DPA




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