This Migrating Bird Flies 6 Months' Straight
Scientists get a surprise when collecting data from Alpine swifts
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 12, 2013 8:19 AM CDT
An Alpine swift in flight.   (Flickr)

(Newser) – When Alpine swifts head south for the winter, they don't mess around: Researchers have discovered that the small birds fly nonstop for six months, reports the Los Angeles Times. The Swiss scientists attached ultra-light sensors to the birds before they took off from Switzerland to Africa, then did a double-take when they examined the data upon the birds' return. "We were totally blown away,” one tells Smithsonian. "During their non-breeding period in Africa, they were always in the air."

The birds take care of food by feeding on flying insects—think "aerial plankton." They also get water from those bugs, though they probably zip down and skim ponds mid-flight, too. As for sleeping, that part's a little trickier. The birds slowed their wing flapping at night and likely glided for long distances, but they didn't sleep so much as rest. Scientists have speculated for a while that the bird's cousin, the common swift, can stay in flight for absurd lengths of time, but this is the first hard data to back up the phenomenon, notes National Geographic. (Elsewhere in the animal kingdom, we learned that elephants understand when humans point.)