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Airborne Swifts

November 3, 2016

Small birds called common swifts remain airborne for months at a time.

Transcript

Common Swift. N. CAMILLERI

A common swift in flight. (Photo: N. Camilleri)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

A life up in the air. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

When the common swift, a small, insect-eating bird, takes flight in August, it may not land until the following June. This according to Lund University biologist Anders Hedenstrom and his colleagues, writing in the journal Current Biology. Using data collection devices attached to the birds, Hedenstrom found the swifts remain airborne for up to ten months, eating and sleeping in mid-air.

ANDERS HEDENSTROM (Lund University):

It has been observed in frigate birds that they can remain for up to one or two months airborne, and also in the related alpine swifts that they can remain for several months airborne, but this is the longest time any bird can remain airborne that we know of.

HIRSHON:

They also found that the birds climb up to a mile each dawn and again at dusk. The team wonders if it’s during the long glide back down that the birds are able to get some sleep on the wing. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon