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Fregata minor

Napping on the wing

Female great frigatebird (Fregata minor): short naps high in the sky during trips that last for days

Diego Delso/WIKICommons Female great frigatebird (Fregata minor): short naps high in the sky during trips that last for daysDiego Delso/WIKICommons

Evidence has confirmed something suspected for a while: birds that fly for days on end take short naps during flight. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany designed tiny devices to record electrical brain activity and monitored the flights of 15 female great frigatebirds (Fregata minor). The birds flew nearly 3,000 kilometers over the ocean in 10 days. At different times after nightfall, one of the hemispheres of the brain would sleep while the other remained awake. This sleep pattern had previously been observed in ducks during tests on land. The surprise finding was that the birds would at times continue to fly while both cerebral hemispheres were asleep; on some occasions, the brain entered REM sleep, the phase when muscles relax and dreams occur (Nature Communications, August 3, 2016). The birds slept 40 minutes a day during their travels, which is about 10% of what they sleep on land.

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