The Loh Down On Science

How long some birds can stay airborne will amaze you!

Inset: D. Occiato / Swift: Swiss Ornithological Institute

An alpine swift aloft. Inset: One of the sensors used to track Alpine swifts.

The question is not why do birds fly south, but how?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with The Loh Down on Science. 

And on the incredible Alpine Swift.

These aerodynamic birds cover 1200 miles on their yearly migration from Southern Europe to Africa.  But that’s literally not the half of it!

Meet Felix Liechti of the Swiss Ornithological Institute.  He and colleagues put sensors on six Alpine Swifts to see how they spent their air time.  The devices tracked where the birds flew, whether it was day or night, and whether they were flapping or gliding.  When the birds returned, the researchers recovered three of the devices.

What did they learn from those birdy black boxes?

Turns out, these frequent fliers spent their entire African tour aloft.  That’s right—for over six months, they migrated, ate, and slept without touching down once.  In all, they flew about 6,000 miles—roughly a quarter of the way around the earth.

As the longest flight ever recorded by a bird, that ain’t peanuts.  Actually it sounds like a lot of peanuts, and maybe a few hundred in-flight movies, but research for another day.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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