Swifts spend the majority of their lives in the air

New research shows that pallid swifts can spend more than three months in the air without landing.

Pallid swift. © David Darrell-Lambert

Researchers at the Lund University have shown that the pallid swift can spend between two to three and a half months flying, without landing once.

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This is in fact the third species of swift that has been shown to spend large amounts of time flying; the same research team previously showed that some common swifts spend up to 10 months in the air.

Pallid swifts lay two clutches in a breeding season, so do not spend as many months in a row flying as common swifts, which lay only one clutch.

“They land when they breed under a roof tile or in a hole, otherwise they live in the air,” says professor Anders Hedenström, who conducted the research at Lund University in Sweden.

“They eat insects while they fly, and when they have reached a high altitude and start gliding, they actually sleep for short periods,” he adds.

The pallid swifts’ flight was recorded by micro-data loggers attached to the birds and was used to record when their wings flapped.

This data has shown that the birds spend months at a time in the air, especially during the winter months which they spend over West Africa.

Swifts have a much higher survival rate compared to other birds, and researchers believe that this has a lot to do with the amount of time they spend in the air.

While flying, they cannot be surprised by predators or affected by parasites in the same way as when on the ground or in a nest.

Read the full paper in the Journal of Avian Biology.

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Main image © David Darrell-Lambert