swifts fly

Swifts fly for enormous stretches of time without resting; sometimes up to 10 months! They are quite unique in this way. 

Swifts are often confused for swallows but can be quite easily told apart. Swallows and martins have pale bellies whereas swifts have darker undersides. Most importantly: swifts fly for 10 months at a time and swallows simply can not compete with that!

Swifts will land for around two months during mating season, but other than that they do not rest or nest for the entire rest of the year! This is when they complete their migration between Europe and Africa.

swifts fly

The reason swifts are able to fly for such extended periods of time is actually quite fascinating. Swifts are able to catch insects without landing. They feed usually at around 50-100 meters by diving into swarms of insects. They will tend to aim for the largest insects they can swallow, and will avoid those with stingers.

Once swifts have caught insects, they do something rather odd. They move the critters into a special food pouch at the back of their throat. Once they are there, they are compressed and combined together along with saliva to form a ball. This ball is called a bolus, and is either taken back to the next or eaten periodically. This ability to store the bolus and eat it bit by bit is the way swifts are able to fuel themselves for such frighteningly long journeys. Swifts fly along slowly eating their bolus and occasionally catching more insects to supplement it, amazing!

swifts fly

To drink, a swift will either catch raindrops or skim the top of a body of water to get a mouth full; or, i guess a beak full is more appropriate.

Other long travelling birds

Swifts fly ENORMOUS distances in one stretch, this much we’ve established. But now we should go through some other birds that travel magnificent distances.

The bar headed goose deserves a mention here i think. Despite not travelling for the longest amount of time, their true strength lies in the height they are able to gain. The bar headed goose is able to reach heights of around 7,000 meters, meaning they only have around 10% of the oxygen levels available to them at sea level.

swifts fly

The bar tailed godwit is a phenomenal bird by all accounts. Its regular migratory pattern involves travelling between Alaska and New Zealand. This is a distance of around 11,000 kilometers. The bar tailed godwit, amazing specimen that it is, is able to do this by flying for nine days straight with no rest, no food and no water. That is an absolute beast of a journey and a phenomenal feat for a relatively unknown bird.

The main take away for today’s blog is that birds are not to be messed with! Migration is a daunting task and the fact they complete these massive journeys twice a year is a phenomenal display of evolution. The adaptations and specializations of birds that allow them to migrate is some seriously interesting stuff. I encourage you all to go research them some more; it’s well worth your time i promise!

Extra information

Animal-Club provides animal parties or animal handling workshops. You will be able to see, learn and interact with many wonderful animals with the help of our presenters. Our mobile zoo has many friendly animals such as rabbits, tarantulas, geckos, vinegaroons and more, perfect for an animal party. We can also come over to your school for an animal school visit or arrange for an animal workshop with us where the children can learn about looking after animals and animal behaviour, and have fun too.