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Migration

200-day nonstop flight

Alpine swift: nearly seven months on the wing, without landing to sleep, rest, or feed

D. OCCIATOAlpine swift: nearly seven months on the wing, without landing to sleep, rest, or feedD. OCCIATO

It would seem impossible for a bird to fly nonstop for 200 days, never landing on the ground or on ocean waters to feed, rest, or sleep, but it is possible for a European species of swift, which is about 20 centimeters long and weighs roughly 100 grams. According to a study by researchers from the Swiss Ornithological Institute and the Bern University of Applied Sciences, the Alpine swift (Tachymarptis melba) is the first bird that has been proven to spend so much time aloft without retracting its wings and coming in for a landing (Nature Communications, October 8, 2013). The swift leaves Europe in late fall and migrates across the Sahara desert in order to winter in Western Africa. During the trip, the birds stay airborne nearly seven months, flapping their wings or gliding. By attaching sensors to the birds, which feed on small bugs, the scientists obtained data that indicated the location and altitude of three specimens of the swift throughout their long flight from the cold. For about 200 days – before breeding, which does take place on the ground – the birds did not land anywhere.

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