Tireless Swifts

Swifts are fascinating animals.I used to  go to a patch of open parkland where the birds would swoop down from the trees and dart across the grass catching insects. I loved lying on my back and watching them streak past a few feet above me. Here’s an article on recent discoveries from Thursday’s i paper:

The common swift is able to fly continuously for 10 months, without touching down for even a second, according to an extraordinary study which finds the species can stay in thee air far longer than any other bird.

Researchers tagged 13 common swifts and followed their every move for 2 years. They found that while swifts land for 2 months during the breeding season, it is incredibly rare for them to roost during the rest of the year, when they are migrating between Europe and Africa. In 3 cases, the bird didn’t land on any ground, a tree, water or anything else for the whole 10 months, while none of the 13 … spent more than 0.5% of their time out of the air.

“This discovery significantly pushes the boundaries for what we know about animal physiology. A 10-month flight phase is the longest we know of any bird species,” …  said the lead author of the study, Professor Anders Hedenstrom, of Lund University in Sweden. Dr Hedenstrom says he was astonished by the results of his study, published in the journal Current Biology. …It had been speculated that they may spend the whole non-breeding period airborne because no one had ever found a roosting site. But Africa is very bit and they do spend a lot of time in the remote Congo rainforest so i had kind of expected they roosted there,” he added.

Common swifts typically weigh 35g to 40g, are 18cm long and have a wingspan of around 40cm.

The researchers used a microdata log, attached to each bird, to determine whether the birds were in the air or not, their acceleration and where they were at  given time.

The second longest flyer is thought to be the Alpine swift which can remain airborne for 6 months. Albatrosses spend a lot of time at sea, but much of this time is spent hunting for squid, so they are only airborne for several days at a time.

This opens up all sorts of questions about human endurance, especially on how swifts seem to live without sleep. I have seen swifts on nature programmes, endlessly flying round to get food for their chicks, but this is usually presented as their busiest time.

Do they ever rest?

If not, what does this tell us about our need to sleep and de-stress? But then they have never built pyramids or invented the internet.

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