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Alpine swift shows extreme flight endurance

The alpine swift can even fly while it's sleeping Vogelwarte.ch/R. Aeschlimann

Bird researchers in Switzerland have discovered that the Alpine swift, a species native to the region, can fly for seven months without stopping and even sleeps in-flight.

This content was published on October 8, 2013 - 17:02
swissinfo.ch and agencies

In 2012, scientists at the Swiss Ornithological Institute in Sempbach, canton Lucerne, affixed tiny geolocators to three Alpine swifts and tracked them during their yearly migration to Africa.

Upon the birds’ return to Switzerland in the spring, the researchers were able to remove the tracking devices and analyse the data they carried. The results were “revolutionary”, according to the researchers: the bird spends the vast majority of its time in the air without landing, feeding on flying insects and sleeping while airborne.

The tracking device, which constantly records the bird’s physical activity, found that the swifts are able to maintain all of their bodily functions during endurance flight. This means they don’t need the same kind of deep sleep that humans need.

The device, developed by the Swiss Ornithological Institute’s researchers, tracks the birds’ activity and location by sensing brightness and wing beat phases.

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