By Purvi Jain
A study gives light on how efficiently the world’s largest soaring bird can ride air currents to remain aloft for many hours without flapping wings.
The Andean condor is the world’s heaviest soaring bird with a 3-meter wingspan and 15kg weight.
For the first time, a team of scientists has recorded equipment which they call “daily diaries” to eight condors in Patagonia to record each wingbeat which is more than 250 hours of flight time.
Incredibly, the birds just spent 1% of their tike in flapping wings just at the time of take-off. One bird flew five hours without flapping the wings covering 100 miles which is equal to 160 kilometers.
Prof Emily Shepard, a study co-author and biologist at Swansea University in Wales, said, “condors are expert pilots but we just had not expected they would be quite so expert”.
The results of which were published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of National Academy of sciences.
“The findings that they basically almost never beat their wings and just soar is mind-blowing”, said David Lentink, an expert in bird flight at Stanford University, who wasn’t the part of the research.
The sky is not empty to birds but a landscape of invisible features: wind gusts, currents of warm rising air, and streams of air that pushed upward by ground such as mountains.
Learning to ride air currents allows some to travel long distances while reducing the exertion of beating their wings.
The scientists who are involved in the study of flying species generally include two types of flight: flapping flight and soaring flight. The difference can be made as pedaling a bicycle uphill vs coasting downwards, said Bret Tobalske who is an expert at the University of Montana.
According to previous studies, white storks and osprey flap for 17% and 25% of their own overland migratory flights, respectively.
Sergio Lambertucci, Biologist at the National University of Comahue in Argentina, says the Andean condor expertise at soaring is an essential part of its scavenger lifestyle which requires hours of circling the high mountain.
He mentioned, “When you see condors circling, they are taking advantage of those thermal uplifts” or increasing guts of warm air.
The recording devices were programmed to fall off the birds later about a week.
Lambertucci said, “Sometimes the devices dropped off into nests on huge cliffs in the middle of the Andes mountains and we needed three days just to go there”.