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Birds Flying High 10 fascinating facts about migrating birds

Read more Last updated: January 2019
In collection Freedom
Reading duration: 2 minutes

Flying across the world with nothing but a pair of wings has to be the ultimate in freedom. Read on for some impressive trivia about our feathered friends.

1. Cool customers

Snow geese make their annual trek from Siberia to western Europe every November. They leave the Siberian breeding grounds and migrate to milder European areas such as Germany and the Netherlands. And who can blame them for wanting to be warm?

2. Tiny traveller

The ruby-throated hummingbird can easily be mistaken for an insect, as it’s only one centimeter long and weighs a mere 4g. Moreover, it makes a sound like a bumblebee. But don’t underestimate this tiny creature, which travels 1,000km non-stop from Canada to Costa Rica, via the Gulf of Mexico.

3. Weightly preparation

The red knot makes sure it has a hearty meal before it sets out on its journey. It increases its body mass by around 70 per cent and its weight increases from 140g to 240g, to ensure that it has enough strength for the impending 4,000km flight. It migrates between its breeding grounds in northern Siberia and the warmer climes of western Europe and Africa.

4. Team formation

Cranes and geese belong to the short and middle-distance migrants, starting their journeys in October. Look up at the sky around this time of year and you will almost certainly spot that familiar V formation. The birds regularly change positions. If one has been flying at the front for a long time, it goes to one of the positions at the back for a rest.

5. Solo journey

The cuckoo travels alone, heading off to southern Africa in the autumn and returning to Europe between March and May.

6. Chilled out tourist

The American woodcock is definitely one of the most laidback fliers, travelling at a mere 8km per hour. It makes its way from southern Manitoba in Canada via Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia to as far south as Florida and the central eastern area of the USA.

7. High fliers

Bar-headed geese cross the Himalayas on their journey and can fly as high as 9,000m, occasionally getting in the way of passing aeroplanes. They tend to regularly change altitude, soaring and sinking, ensuring that they don’t get bored.

8. Going the distance

The Arctic tern flies the farthest distance of all migratory birds, between the Arctic and the Antarctic. It can easily fly around 30,000km, with some reaching up to 80,000km.

9. Speedy action

Living up to their name, swifts fly without stopping from south of the equator in Africa to central Europe. In order to recharge their batteries, they sleep on the go, essentially enjoying a power nap.

10. The bird's song

The bird's hearing sense is important for survival. Specific sounds and songs are not only means of staying in touch with the flock, but are also vital as warning signals in case of approaching danger. Unlike humans, whose hearing declines with age and exposure to loud noise, birds maintain their hearing all of their lives.

Did you know?

Bird specialists, known as ornithologists, attach sensors to birds to find out more about flight routes and behaviour.

4 ways to fly

From Canada through the USA and Mexico to Central America, there are four main migration routes that have their own names (from west to east):

  • Pacific flyway
  • Central flyway
  • Mississippi flyway
  • Atlantic flyway

Getting ready for the flight

Birds don’t always follow the shortest routes but are influenced by the direction of the wind. Before the birds set out on their migration, the volume of their heart and wing muscles increases.

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