Birds spend almost their entire lifetime flying. These airborne creatures possess the ability to eat, molt, mate, and even sleep in flight.
Do Birds Get Tired of Flying?
Birds, especially the migrating ones, cover thousands of miles while flying and thus, invest an extensive amount of energy on it. After such long-haul flights, birds do get tired and exhausted.
Some birds never make it to their destinations because of chronic fatigue. However, it is in the minority. Migrating Birds prepare themselves beforehand to ensure that they do not meet the same end. They begin gaining weight before 2-3 weeks of migration so that they remain energy-dense.
Birds have undergone many morphological and anatomical adaptations for flight. However, they use various other methods which help them to maintain their energy expenditure. Two of them are:
It is a special flight technique in which a bird flies without flapping wings with the help of air currents. It helps them in minimizing the movement of wing muscles, thus, results in less energy expenditure.
The large wingspans help birds to soar. But, they also use a wavy motion to rise and fall which induces a driving force or thrust. This helps them in covering long distances without flapping wings.
Some of the great examples of soaring birds are Albatrosses, eagles, pelicans, terns, and vultures.
• Sleeping in Mid-Flight
Some birds have the special ability to sleep in mid-flight. This way, they manage their fatigue and do not get deprived of sleep. They do so by different processes and sleep patterns.
A great example of such a bird is the frigate bird which travels several miles in search of food over the sea. They sleep for brief periods in mid-flight, which on average is about 42 minutes a day.
They exhibit a special phenomenon in which one hemisphere of the brain is at rest while the other stays awake. In slow-wave sleep, the bird has one-eye open to control threats and to navigate.
How Long Can Birds Fly Without Stopping?
Many birders wonder how long can birds fly before getting rest or without stopping? The time that a bird can spend in the air depends on its ability. Migrating birds can travel for months without stopping. They cover thousands of miles without landing even once.
The common Swift conducts non-stop flying to cover a distance of around 6000 miles from Europe to central Africa. They remain in flight for up to 10 months. Their lightweight, streamlined body, narrow wings, and wide wingspan generate efficient flight.
The other bird, Alpine Swift, can fly for 200 days without stopping from Switzerland to Africa. The Frigate birds stay in the air for about 2 months without landing for rest. An arctic tern can travel several miles non-stop in its journey from the north pole to the south pole.
In recent, researchers have found that a bar-tailed godwit has made a record of longest flying without a stop. It traveled a distance of about 7,500 miles from Alaska to New Zealand without stopping.
Can A Bird Die While Flying?
A bird can die while flying if it undergoes massive trauma from collisions or gets caught in powerful air currents or updrafts. The other possible reason is chronic fatigue due to which migrating birds die while flying long distances.
Massive trauma caused by powerful collisions leads to a bird’s death. Thousands of birds, while flying, collide with obstacles such as electrical wires, wind turbines, sea cliffs, poles, etc. leading to fatal injuries and even death.
Exhaustion is another reason why birds die in mid-flight. This usually happens in migrating birds as they cover distances of several miles. Exhaustion can make them more prone to collisions and potential threats.
Unfavorable conditions or wind patterns, hurricanes, and other natural disasters play a huge role in the survival of birds in mid-flight. When birds get caught in worse weather conditions, they get injured and die.
Do Migrating Birds Take Rest?
When migrating birds traverse for long distances, they get tired and hence, search for sites where they can rest and refuel their energy. They navigate to places where they get food, shelter, and appropriate conditions.
These sites where birds rest during their migration are called stopover sites. Some of the famous stopover sites are:
- Upper Bay of Panama
- Coasts of Louisiana
- San Pedro River in Arizona
- Grasslands in Venezuela
- Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC
- The Bay of Fundy and Delaware Bay
The stopover sites play an important role in the migrating birds’ survival because it prevents them from chronic fatigue. The sites rich with resources help in their conservation.
These sites can vary from vegetative sites, agriculture fields to urban regions. Different stopover sites provide different resting opportunities for the migrants.
The duration spent by birds at a stopover depends not only on their energy level, but also on the location of the site, environment, and weather conditions.
How far up can birds fly on a single stretch?
The birds that possess the ability of soaring can fly to extremely high altitudes on a single stretch. Many bird species, especially the migrating birds, fly in a single stretch to altitudes of about 3000 to 4000 m.
The birds, residing in habitats located over 13000 to 14000 feet above sea level, fly to several feet on one stretch. The most important factor that helps them to fly high on one stretch is – long wingspan.
Bar-headed geese can fly up to altitudes of 4000 m to 6000 m during their long-haul migrations of about 200 hours. They use a special technique, known as the roller-coaster strategy, to obtain such height while flying.
Flying higher helps birds in making them less prone to predators. Cooler winds may also save the birds from overheating.
Birds fly several miles in search of food, habitat, and favorable conditions. This requires a lot of energy, causing fatigue in birds. They spend a longer duration of their life in flight, which makes them more apt to threats. However, they have special abilities that help them in their survival.