A study sheds light on just how efficiently the worlds largest soaring bird rides air currents to stay aloft for hours without flapping its wings.
The Andean condor has a 3-metre (10ft) wingspan and weighs up to 15kg (33lbs), making it the worlds heaviest soaring bird.
For the first time, a team of scientists strapped recording equipment they called daily diaries to eight condors in Patagonia to record each wingbeat over more than 250 hours of flight time.
Incredibly, the birds spent just 1% of their time aloft flapping their wings, mostly during takeoff. One bird flew more than five hours, covering more than 100 miles (160km), without flapping its wings.
Condors are expert pilots but we just had not expected they would be quite so expert, said Prof Emily Shepard, a study co-author and biologist at Swansea University in Wales.
The results were published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The finding that they basically almost never beat their wings and just soar is mind-blowing, said David Lentink, an expert in bird flight at Stanford University, who was not involved in the research.
To birds, the sky is not empty but a landscape of invisible features: wind gusts, currents of warm rising air and streams of air pushed upward by ground features such as mountains.
Learning to ride air currents allows some to travel long distances while minimising the exertion of beating their wings.
Scientists who study flying animals generally consider two types of flight: flapping flight and soaring flight. The difference can be likened to peddling a bicycle uphill versus coasting downhill, said Bret Tobalske, a bird flight expert at the University of Montana, who was not involved in the study.
Previous studies have shown that white storks and osprey flap for 17% and 25% of their overland migratory flights, respectively.
The Andean condors expertise at soaring is essential for its scavenger lifestyle, which requires hours a day of circling high mountains looking for a meal of carrion, said Sergio Lambertucci, a study co-author and biologist at the National University of Comahue in Argentina.
When you see condors circling, they are taking advantage of those thermal uplifts, or rising gusts of warm air, he said.
The recording devices were programmed to fall off the birds after about a week.
Retrieving them was not so easy. Sometimes the devices dropped off into nests on huge cliffs in the middle of the Andes mountains, and we needed three days just to get there, Lambertucci said.
SpaceX: Musk’s ‘Mars ship’ prototype aces 150m test flight – BBC News
A prototype of the engine for SpaceX’s next-generation Starship vehicle has made a 150m test “hop”.
Image copyrightSpaceXImage caption
The test flight lasted less than a minute
A prototype of SpaceX’s next-generation Starship vehicle has successfully flown to an altitude of 150m (500ft).
The uncrewed test vehicle rose up on a plume of exhaust before deploying its landing legs and touching down softly.
The flight was carried out at SpaceX’s test site near the village of Boca Chica in south Texas on Tuesday evening.
It’s the first flight test in almost a year for the Raptor engine, which w…
Massive ancient temple complex may lurk beneath famous Northern Ireland fort – Live Science
Navan Fort has been viewed as a sacred site for thousands of years.
The remains of “monumental temples” dating to the Iron Age and medieval buildings may be hidden underground at Navan Fort, an archaeological site in Northern Ireland, a new study finds.
Exactly what’s left of these ruins, however, remains to be seen. Archaeologists discovered the buried structures by using remote-sensing techniques that allowed them to map the hidden landscape and detect anomalies, such as architectural features made by humans.
These Iron Age and medieval buildings suggest t…
Surprisingly dense exoplanet challenges planet formation theories – Phys.org
New detailed observations with NSF’s NOIRLab facilities reveal a young exoplanet, orbiting a young star in the Hyades cluster, that is unusually dense for its size and age. Weighing in at 25 Earth-masses, and slightly smaller than Neptune, this exoplanet’s ex…
New detailed observations with NSF’s NOIRLab facilities reveal a young exoplanet, orbiting a young star in the Hyades cluster, that is unusually dense for its size and age. Weighing in at 25 Earth-masses, and slightly smaller than Neptune, this exoplanet’s existence is at odds with the predictions of leading planet formation theories.
New observations of the exoplanet, known as K2-25b, made with the WIYN 0.9-meter Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO), a Program of NSF’s NOIRLab, t…
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