When you look up at the sky and see a bird flying you usually notice its wings flapping up and down, moving it along the sky above you.
When it comes to one of the world’s heaviest flying bird, the Andean condor, these massive gliding giants only flap their wings 1% of their entire flight time.
A study led by researchers at Swansea University in the U.K. decided to look more closely into the incredible phenomenon. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday.
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How do you explain a massive condor flying over 100 miles (172 kilometers) without once flapping its wings? Given these large birds can weigh up to 15kg, it’s a marvel they’re even able to get up and stay up in the air, let alone over 100 miles without moving their wings.
This is just one example that the team of researchers from Swansea University has uncovered and shared publicly with their study on these fascinating birds.
The study looked into possible connections of environmental conditions and the amount of effort these large birds put into their flight to come to understand them better.
To do so, the team attached data recorders onto Andean condors, which enabled them to log every single flap these birds took while they flew, as well as record their flight paths.
Interestingly, “Our results revealed the amount the birds flapped didn’t change substantially with the weather,” said study co-author Hannah Williams of the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behaviour.
“This suggests that decisions about when and where to land are crucial, as not only do condors need to be able to take off again, but unnecessary landings will add significantly to their overall flight costs.”
By only flapping their wings one percent of their flight time, these big birds are saving a lot of energy, and it turns out that 75% of their flapping time happens during take-off. Then, once up in the air, the condors make use of wind and thermal conditions to soar for hours upon end without much physical strain required.