Researchers have announced that common swifts can fly for up to ten months without resting. Common swifts are not the only birds that spend a significant time of their lives flying, but the new study makes them the holder of the world record for a non stop flight.

Scientists still have to discover how these animals get some sleep while flying. Common swifts are known for their aerial abilities, which include capturing food and collecting nest material while flying. Andrs Hedenström and colleagues published Thursday in the Cell Press journal Current Biology the study based on information collected through data loggers.

Common Swift
Common Swift. Image credit: Wikimedia.

The devices were adapted for the study. Hedenström and other scientists developed a new type of microdata logger. The new devices were able to record acceleration to monitor the little bird’s flight.

The new addition was a light sensor for use in geolocation that processed enough evidence to say that common swifts are capable of flying for up to ten months without ever coming down. The researchers attached their improved devices to 19 common swifts.

Hedenström stated that common swifts were tracked from their breeding site, which they left in August, to the Central African forests via West Africa. But the little birds did not stop there, they only rested ten months later when they returned to their breeding site for the next breeding season.

The data showed that the impressive small birds spent more than 99 percent of their non-breeding migration time in flight. The loggers registered that common swifts’ flight activity was often lower during the day than in the night, and Hedenström has a theory about that.

The scientist believes that to recover some energy, common swifts spend their days soaring on warm air currents and during dawn and dusk, the they ascend to high altitudes.

Other birds are known for flying for prolonged periods, such as the frigate bird, but this is the first time that someone shows evidence that a bird can manage to fly for up to ten months without landing at any time.

Not all common swifts were able to do the nonstop flight. The data loggers reported that some individuals rested for brief periods or for a longer time. Others were able to overcome the weather and their tiredness during the whole ten months.

Scientists want to know how common swifts get some sleep during long flights

The study does not reveal how common birds rest or if they do it at all. “The fact that some individuals never landed during ten months suggests they sleep on the wing,” stated Hedenström in the press release.

Common swifts can reach the age of 20, contrary to what people would think of a small bird. Considering these birds fly ten months a year, they can accumulate a flight distance equal to seven round-trip journeys to the moon, according to Hederström.

The team wants to investigate how common swifts balance energetic costs of flying and for that, they have to study the bird’s physiology first.  

Source: Current Biology