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Alpine Swifts Stay In The Air For 6 Months Straight

alpine swift

In September 2011, three Alpine Swifts took flight from Africa and didn’t reach their destination in the Mediterranean until April 2012. For more than 200 days, the birds journeyed across harsh terrain and survived, but that’s not the most impressive thing about it.

According to the trackers placed on the birds, the swifts made the journey by flying nonstop. Yes, the birds ate while in the air and even slept while in the air.

This amazing study, which has been out for a few years now, shows definitive proof that some birds spend the majority of the year in the air. Scientists have long theorized that some species will spend most of their lives in the air, but this study shows the theory in action.

Even though the researchers admitted that the birds may have touched the ground on the journey, the birds couldn’t have stopped for more than a brief moment because the trackers recorded their body position every four minutes.

So how did they do it? Here’s one theory from a recent article in io9:

It’s possible, the scientists think, that alpine swifts sleep the way dolphins do. When one half of the brain goes to sleep, the other half keeps the bird airborne and alive, and then the other half of the brain takes over.

Some feats birds accomplish are simply unimaginable to us humans. Take the Northern Wheatear, for example. The small bird can migrate 9,000 miles one way over the ocean, ice, and desert!

As our ability to study bird migration and patterns gets better with the advent of miniature trackers, more and more of these stories of astounding bird feats come out.

I’m looking forward to reading more of them.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.