The common swift was found to have one amazing attribute, but there are lots of very interesting facts about this bird.
As we reported recently, scientists were shocked to find that the common swift, a bird commonly found in Europe, Asia and Africa, had just shattered a record by being observed staying in air for 10 months straight without ever landing, beating the old record by about a hundred days. But there’s actually a lot of fascinating facts about this rather unusual creature.
Scientists reported in a new paper that the common swift, Apus apus, can spend a full 10 months flying without every landing, doing everything a bird does in the air, whether that be eating or mating, according to a Cell Press statement. The former record holder was the Alpine swift, Tachymarptis melba, which could stay aloft for 200 days straight.
Here’s a few other facts about this bird:
1. They have a massive range, spanning all of Europe and much of Asia during the breeding season, and covering the entire southern half of Africa during the winter months.
2. They have an unusual shape. The short, forked tail they have and long, swept-back wings make it look like a boomerang.
3. They have “screaming parties.” During summer evenings, 10 to 20 swifts will gather near a nesting area and call out to nesting swifts with their signaturing screaming call.
4. They have been found nesting in former woodpecker tree burrows in huge numbers. A total of 600 were reported nesting in the Bialowieza Forest in Poland.
Of course, it’s the latest discovery that might be the most amazing fact about this species. After all, how can a bird stay in the air for 10 months straight?
“When the common swifts leave their breeding site in August for a migration to the Central African rainforests via West Africa, they never touch ground until they return for the next breeding season 10 months later,” says Anders Hedenström of Lund University in Sweden. “Some individuals may roost for brief periods, or even entire nights in mid-winter, but others literally never landed during this period.”
Hedenstrom and his colleagues used a micro data logger to monitor the flight activity for the birds, and light sensors for geolocation. They recovered a total of 19 common swifts, and used the data to come to their conclusions.
“The data showed that swifts spend more than 99 percent of their time during their 10-month non-breeding period in flight,” the statement reads. “While some individuals settled down at some point, others never did. The birds’ flight activity often appeared lower during the day than at night, most likely because the birds spent their days soaring on warm air currents.”
It’s not quite clear how the birds sleep, but “the fact that some individuals never landed during 10 months suggests they sleep on the wing,” Hedenstrom said.