Common swifts stay airborne for over 300 days in the year, according to a study published by Swedish researchers in the journal Current Biology. The report confirmed that the swifts are officially the record holders of the title – birds that can stay airborne the longest.
They can stay wing for ten months. This was proven by tiny data loggers that were attached to the birds to monitor and record acceleration. The study’s lead author, Anders Hedenström, a professor of evolutionary ecology at Lund University in Sweden, explained that the birds have the ability to fly at top speeds of about 75 miles per hour. He added:
“Ornithologists have long speculated about the possibility that common swifts could actually be airborne for their entire non-breeding period of up to 10 months.This is the first study to actually demonstrate that swifts remain flying throughout most of the non-breeding season.”
Previous studies claimed that the Alpine swift, also known as Tachymarptis melba, was the species of birds that could stay airborne the longest. The Alpine swift can fly non-stop for some 200 days.
The common swift, a medium-sized bird, has no real reason to settle voluntarily on the ground because it catches bugs mid-flight to consume. They also mate and sleep while in the air – the birds need about 42 minutes of sleep per day.
The experts said that the birds do land to lay eggs and are forced to seek shelter on the ground or in trees during harsh winter weather and storms. Researcher Niels Rattenborg shared:
“We found that the frigatebirds sleep only when they’re gliding, not when they’re flapping. But when it comes to the swifts, anything is possible. Maybe they can also sleep while they’re flapping their wings. We simply do not know.”
Hedenström said another reason that swifts remain on the wing is that their bodies were designed for the air. The swifts are known for their very short legs which “they use primarily for clinging to vertical surfaces” and therefore not ideal for solid ground. Additionally, they face great danger when they are on the ground. Larger predators feast on swifts.
Based on his calculation, a common swift, which lives up to about 20 years, can make seven round trips to the moon.