We All Underestimate How Far Birds Can Fly

We All Underestimate How Far Birds Can Fly

Birds can fly, and that's amazing. You can't fly, right, even if you flap your arms really hard? But once you get over your first surprise on seeing a bird fly, you stop thinking about it. 

You probably imagine a bird flying for a quick burst to get from place to place and then spending most of its time on the ground, based on what you've seen of pigeons. If so, you're not thinking about some of the absurd distances that these birds cover. Take the albatross. An albatross will cross an entire ocean (so, if you're ever stranded on a raft and see an albatross in the sky, sorry, that doesn't mean you're approaching land). It will travel 500 miles in one day.

Here's one stat that sounds impossible: An albatross will spend six years flying over the ocean without touching land. And, okay, turns out that fact is kind of misleading. It will land during these six years—it'll land on the water, and it'll fish food from the water before taking off. Even knowing the full story, it's still pretty crazy though.

The albatross has a wingspan of 11 feet—it's huge. Now let's look at a bird that's much smaller. The ruby-throated hummingbird weighs just 3 grams. Even so, it too is able to cover 500 miles in a single day. Hummingbirds regularly manage to cover a 600-mile distance to cross the Gulf of Mexico for migration in 20 to 30 hours. Scientists running dedicated bird simulations are also convinced a ruby-throated hummingbird could fly 1,300 miles ... nonstop.

It sounds impossible for a 3 gram bird to cover that distance nonstop. In fact, it is impossible, chemically impossible: The journey would burn more than 3 grams of fat. But the bird prepares for the migration just fine by more than doubling its bodyweight beforehand. So, you don't have a bird the weight of three paperclips flying across the Gulf of Mexico. You have a bird the weight of seven paperclips flying across the Gulf of Mexico. Yep, makes much more sense that way. 

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For more facts for bird brains, check out: 

Pelicans Are the Sarlacc of the Bird World

The Lyrebird Is the World's Greatest Mimic

5 Insane Ways Science is Humiliating Birds (With WTF Images)

Top image: Pslawinski/Wiki Commons

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