No animal loves flying – or perhaps just hates being on the ground – quite like the common swift. This bird species spends 10 months of the year in the air, with some swifts not landing once that entire time. And yes, swifts somehow sleep while flying.
Swifts only breed for two months in the summer, one of the shortest periods for any bird. That leaves the rest of the year for migration between northern Europe and central Africa, but swifts aren’t actually interested in landing at their apparent destination. Researcher Anders Hedenström at Sweden’s Lund University has tracked swift migrations for the last couple years and found none of the birds spent more than half a day on the ground, and a few never came down at all. While a few other bird species spend long periods in the air, it’s likely that no other bird rivals the common swift.
“It is quite rare,” Hedenström told Vocativ. Part of the reason these birds stay up in the air the longest is that they breed the furthest north of any swift species, meaning they have to head south sooner than others. “So I think it would be hard to find a species that shows a longer airborne time.”
The idea that swifts might spend months in the air without coming down has been around for at least 50 years. But it’s only recently that cellphones and other technology have become advanced enough that it’s possible to build a monitor that can be attached to a swift’s leg and used to track its flight data for several months.
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