The uncommon common swift

Reader Jacques Hausser, a Swiss biologist, sent some lovely YouTube videos of swifts, who rarely land anywhere, and can’t even take off from the ground. Their diet consists entirely of insects.

The swifts shown are common swifts, Apus apus, which are anything but “common”!

Their most amazing feature (from Wikipedia):

Except when nesting, swifts spend their lives in the air, living on the insects caught in flight; they drink, feed, and often mate and sleep on the wing. Some individuals go 10 months without landing. No other bird spends as much of its life in flight. Their maximum horizontal flying speed is 111.6 km/h. Over a lifetime they can cover millions of kilometers

Their range is shown below (breeding range in red, wintering range in blue):

Jacques’s comments are indented. I highly recommend watching all three videos, which are mesmerizing and will also cheer you up. (Matthew Cobb is a big fan of swifts.)

The  first is a general purpose one to celebrate the swifts (7th of June was the swifts’ day, you missed this one—and I missed it too).

The following ones are parts of a study of behaviour in flight (remember, these birds are permanent flyers except in the nesting season).

Grooming in flight:

Capturing prey:

 

12 Comments

  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 15, 2020 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Some of the best glider pilots in the world. If you do a lot of mowing with a tractor you get to see some great flying by the purple martins. It is amazing to watch up close. You are almost sure they are going to hit something but they never do.

  2. Posted July 15, 2020 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    As I write this I can see swifts wheeling and dashing through the sky. They’ve been here only since the first week of May and in a couple of weeks they’ll have disappeared as suddenly as they arrived. More than any other bird, swifts are “summer”.

  3. Dean Reimer
    Posted July 15, 2020 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    What do they do for sleep?

    • Jacques Hausser
      Posted July 15, 2020 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      At the evening they climb up up to 2000 m above the soil (checked by radar) and then altern gliding and sleeping with short periods of flapping.

    • amyt
      Posted July 15, 2020 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

      1/2 brain on. 1/2 brain off if I’m not mistaken.

  4. Jacques Hausser
    Posted July 15, 2020 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    These videos were produced by Jean-François Cornuet with a Panasonic GH5 at 180 shoots per second. you can find more info here.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 15, 2020 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      My browser gives a warning about the site. I wonder if it’s just unfamiliar with the french formats. I turned back.

  5. Posted July 15, 2020 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Closest relatives are hummingbirds btw

  6. BJ
    Posted July 15, 2020 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Those facts from the Wikipedia paragraph are incredible. The wonders of nature truly never cease!

  7. amyt
    Posted July 15, 2020 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    I love swifts. They have nested in my chimney every year for the last 25+ years. I look forward to their symphony ever year. Makes the cat a little crazy, though.

  8. Max Blancke
    Posted July 15, 2020 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    I rate this one not just interesting, but damned interesting.

  9. David Harper
    Posted July 16, 2020 at 1:28 am | Permalink

    “Their maximum horizontal flying speed is 111.6 km/h.”

    Ah, but what’s the *average* airspeed velocity of an unladen swift?


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