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How Do Birds Rest During Migration?

December 4, 2013

Research & Collections

by Meg Lowman

If aviation engineers could apply the wisdom of the chimney swift, several troublesome problems of aeronautics could be solved. Pilots, for example, would never have to worry about the amount of gasoline in their tanks. The chimney swift refuels on the wing, spends almost its entire waking life in the air, and never, except by accident, touches the earth.

Rachel Carson

Every autumn, many millions of birds migrate from northern breeding grounds to equatorial locations. This annual flight is not only extraordinary in terms of time and energy, but also raises questions about the physiological issue of sleep. Some birds migrate long distances, while others only shift regionally. So how do birds rest during migration, and what are the consequences for migratory sleep deprivation?

In 2011, the Swiss Ornithological Institute affixed electronic sensors to alpine swifts to monitor their movements. This species spends summers breeding in Europe…

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