Frigate birds’ ability to fly nonstop explained

Frigate birds are known for their ability to fly continuously for weeks without landing. Several new studies explain, at least in part, why.

Frigate birds leverage atmospheric conditions

French, Canadian and U.K. researchers conducted a telemetric study of the frigate bird’s trajectory and flight strategy and concluded that they can remain airborne for over two months during their transoceanic migrations.

How? They take advantage of atmospheric conditions encountered in tropical waters (trade winds and cloud updraft) to fly and glide over thousands of kilometers by minimizing the beating of their wings and thus their energy use.

The study was published in the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s journal, Science, on July 1.

Frigate birds sleep in flight

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany measured the brain activity of frigate birds and found that they sleep in flight with either one cerebral hemisphere at a time or both hemispheres simultaneously.

Despite being able to engage in all types of sleep in flight, the birds slept less than an hour a day, a mere fraction of the time spent sleeping on land. How frigate birds are able to perform adaptively on such little sleep remains a mystery.

The study was published in Nature Communications on Aug. 3.

Photo credit: © iStock/SteveAllenPhoto

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