How Giant Birds Can Fly Nearly 10,000 Miles

An albatross is a huge bird, weighing up to 25 pounds, but it can fly around the world in 46 days! That's quite a mean feat, even among creatures who have harnessed the miracle of flight. Lifting that heavy body into the air takes a lot of energy, so to compensate, albatrosses have harnessed their knowledge of physics. A team of German scientists attached GPS trackers to 20 of the birds to study their flight. Their data comes from 16 of the birds, which causes us to pause just a moment in memory of the other four.

Albatrosses yo-yo up and down in the sky, taking advantage of momentum generated on their downhill glides in order to climb back up against the wind. These constant up and down changes in altitude keep the birds aloft without requiring much effort. In fact, the propulsive force generated by such undulations is about ten times greater than anything the albatross could create by simply flapping its wings.

But it’s a trick the rest of the animal kingdom doesn’t often use. For example, hummingbirds weigh about 0.07 ounces (2.2 grams)—98 percent less than an albatross—and yet their wings have to beat about 70 times per second to keep their little bodies aloft. An albatross can go hours without flapping. Because of this frantic motion, hummingbirds have to eat up to three times their body weight every day.

While hummingbirds appear to get along just fine at low efficiency, their lives depend on available fuel sources. If those sources were to die out, so would the hummingbirds. But albatrosses could simply travel to a new food source -which is what they do. Read more at NatGeo's Weird and Wild blog. -via the Presurfer

(Image credit: Flickr user StormPetrel1)

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