Scientists have long suspected that the Alpine swift — a swallowlike bird that has a wingspan of about 22 inches (57 centimeters) and a body length of about 8 inches (20 cm) — spends much of its life in flight, based on field observations and radar data collected during its migration. But, until now, researchers have not been able to prove just how long these birds fly without taking a rest.
Researchers at the Swiss Ornithological Institute and the Bern University of Applied Sciences in Burgdorf, Switzerland, have collected data showing that the birds take little to no breaks during their migration from breeding grounds in Switzerland to wintering grounds in Western Africa and back again the following year. The team details their findings today (Oct. 8) in the journal Nature Communications.
To collect their data, the researchers outfitted six birds with small tags that logged acceleration and ambient light during the course of a yearlong migration cycle that began and ended in Switzerland. Only three of the six birds were recaptured the following year, but these individuals provided enough data to complete the study, the researchers said.