Scientists have found that large Andean condors are incredibly efficient and only flap their wings 1% of the time in the sky.
WASHINGTON – A new study sheds light on how efficiently the world’s tallest soaring bird rides air currents to stay in the air for hours without flapping its wings.
The Andean Condor has a wingspan of up to 10 feet and weighs up to 33 pounds. He is the heaviest bird that lives today.
For the first time, a team of scientists strapped eight condors in Patagonia to what they called “daily diaries”
Incredibly, the birds only spent 1% of their time flapping their wings, mostly during takeoff. A bird flew for more than five hours and covered more than 100 miles without flapping its wings.
“Condors are expert pilots – but we just didn’t expect them to be such experts,” said Emily Shepard, co-author and biologist at Swansea University in Wales.
The results were published in the Proceedings journal of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday.
“Finding that they almost never flap their wings and just get on is awesome,” said David Lentink, a bird flight expert at Stanford University, who was not involved in the research.
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For birds, the sky is not empty, but a landscape with invisible features – gusts of wind, currents of warm, rising air, and air currents that are pushed up by soil features such as mountains.
Learning to ride air currents allows some birds to travel long distances while minimizing the effort of flicking their wings.
Scientists who study flying animals generally consider two types of flight: flapping and soaring. The difference is comparable to peddling a bike uphill and downhill, said Bret Tobalske, a bird flight expert at the University of Montana, who was not involved in the study.
Previous studies have shown that white storks and ospreys perform 17% and 25% of their cross-country flights, respectively.
Sergio Lambertucci, co-author and biologist of the study at the National University of Comahue in Argentina, said that the Andean condor’s extreme ability to fly high is essential for its scavenger lifestyle, which takes hours a day to climb high mountains circle and look for a meal from carrion.
“If you see condors circling, take advantage of these thermal increases,” or rising gusts of warm air, he said.
The recorders were programmed to fall off the birds after about a week.
Finding her was not that easy. “Sometimes the devices dropped in nests on huge cliffs in the middle of the Andes and it took us three days to get there,” said Lambertucci.
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