Wednesday, February 26, 2014

This Bird was Built for Flying

I'm making my way through Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence, and Emperor Penguins by Gavin Francis, and really enjoying it. I was pretty much blown away when I came across a discussion of one of the animals the author encounters on his trip down to Antarctica (by ship): the albatross.

I have to admit, a picture of these birds doesn't do them much justice. If you ask me, they look like especially determined (or maybe angry?) sea gulls.

But have they got skills. Mad flying skills.

The book mentions the following an anecdote (p35):

A wandering albatross taking off from Bird Island was tracked by a satellite; in one year it circumnavigated the globe flying to Brazil, across the Pacific, past the southern coasts of New Zealand and Australia, and back across the Indian and Atlantic oceans twice without touching land.

While the bird probably did land on the surface of the water at some points, that's still an amazing journey for one animal to make. And this sort of long distance coverage isn't unique to one bird.

Apparently, an albatross uses a flying technique known as dynamic soaring that allows it to fly thousands (yes, thousands) of miles without flapping its wings. That's astounding, no?

For more information, check out this narrative describing the life times of one particular albatross (appropriately named Amelia). The author used flight data and observation to put a storyline behind the bird's behavior. And it's just amazing.

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