The swifts are able to feed, breed and are thought to even sleep while still airborne.
What is it about the common swift that has floored scientists?
We all know birds travel thousands of miles to migrate and the swift is no exception. They fly from Europe to Africa over a period of 10 months but it’s what they don’t do during this trip that has amazed the scientists from Lund University in Sweden.
They never touch the ground.
The husband and wife research team investigated common swifts on their migration journeys and found their incredible capabilities of feeding and even mating while still in the air. Many of them only landed on branches or nest boxes to rest.
The reason for keeping airborne for so long is down to the way the birds are built. Swifts are known for their long wingspans and short legs making it very difficult for them to land and take off on a flat surface.
Susanne Åkesson and husband Anders Hedenström tracked 19 birds with devices that picked up data on body positions, locations and activity. They found the birds rarely landed but when they did it was to roost and most probably because of extreme weather conditions.
“Humans didn’t learn to fly until a little bit over 100 years ago, for a few seconds. But evolution has come up with an organism that can spend almost their entire life airborne. I think that is absolutely fantastic,” stated Hedenström.
And what about sleep? It is highly likely that the birds are able to sleep while airborne too, however, the team were not able to research this part of the swift’s migration adventure properly. It is known that the swift has the incredible ability to find food at high altitude.
“We think they climb to high altitude at one time around dawn and one time around dusk. Ornithologists have long speculated about the possibility that common swifts could actually be airborne for their entire non-breeding period of up to 10 months.”
Details of the study were published in the journal Current Biology.