Birds have always been envied because they can fly, but scientists have discovered that a particular species, such as frigate birds, can travel for hundreds of kilometers.
According to Henri Weimerskirch, National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) ornithologist and lead author of the latest research, these birds are unique as there are still many questions about them to which scientists have not been capable of answering yet.
Weimerskirch and his colleagues tagged the specimens with a device to understand more about their marathon including altitude, acceleration, GPS coordinates, heart rate, and wing beat frequency. Based on the results, they learned that frigate birds can travel up to 255 miles (410 km) every day.
It is also worth mentioning that juveniles were the ones who made the longest flights without being observed by their parents. The longest journey was made by a young frigate bird, which traveled 34,000 miles (55,000 km) in 185 days with brief island breaks.
Scientists established that the average gliding altitude ranged between 98 to 6,562 feet (30 to 2,000 meters). This altitude became lower just when the birds needed to hunt for fish. The secret of these frigate birds is that they rely on circular updrafts, coming from cumulus clouds.
These updrafts allowed the birds to reach 5,249 feet (1,600 meters) without too much effort. After flying up to the ideal altitude, they kept gliding for 37 miles (60 km) until they used other updrafts to go to higher altitudes again.
According to Curtis Deutsch and Raymond Huey, University of Washington professors, soaring and gliding are the most efficient methods of traveling a long distance for frigate birds, because they can fly hundreds of kilometers with little effort.
Weimerskirch also discovered that during this time, wing beat frequencies and heart rates are usually low. Frigate birds feed by catching fish swimming at the surface of the water or by stealing other birds’ prey.
Scientists have not discovered yet how these birds rest during such long flights. Some bird experts believe that these birds sleep during their flights, possibly with their eyes open. This is the only viable supposition until now.
Besides frigate birds, there are only a few other species capable of flying over such long distances. Scientists will continue monitoring frigates hoping to learn more about their behavior including sleep and eating patterns.
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