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Study Finds Condors Can Soar 100 miles (160km) Without Flapping Its Wings

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A study casts light on how efficiently the world’s most giant soaring bird rides air currents to keep them airborne for hours without flapping its wings.

This incredible bird has a wingspan stretching to about 10 feet (3meters) and can weigh up to 33 pounds (15kgs), thus making it the heaviest soaring bird alive.

Flapping flight is exceptionally costly for large birds; however, little is known about the circumstances that force them to flap. 

For the first time, scientists had strapped recording equipment on the Andean condor. The recording devices named ‘daily diaries’ were strapped to eight condors in Patagonia to record every wingbeat over more than 250 hours of flying time.

Astonishingly, the birds spent 1% flapping their wings while flying, and it was mostly during takeoff when close to the ground. It was particularly impressive as the birds were immature, which show that the results confirmed even inexperienced birds could cover vast distances over land without flapping, which can help clarify how extinct birds with double the wingspan of condors could have flown.

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One of the birds flew more than 100 miles (160km) in over 5 hours without flapping its wings.

You can find the results which were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences here.

To birds, the sky is not clear. It’s a landscape of invisible features: currents of warm air rising, streams of air that is pushed upwards from ground features such as mountains, etc., and wind gusts, 

Sergio Lambertucci, biologist and a study co-author at the National University of Comahue in Argentina, said the Andean condor’s fantastic skill at soaring is imperative for the hunter lifestyle it requires hours a day of circling above mountains looking for a meal of carrion.

He also said that when you see condors circling, they take advantage of the thermal uplifts, otherwise known as rising gusts of warm air.

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The devices used for recording were programmed to fall off the birds after about a week, which was hard to retrieve as the devices dropped off into massive cliffs and nests in the middle of the Andes mountains.

Studies in the past have shown that osprey and white storks flap for 17% and 25% of their transcontinental migratory flights, respectively.

The Andean condor is known as the largest flying bird globally, by the combined measurements of its wingspan and weight. It is a South American bird, found in the Andes mountains and adjacent Pacific coasts of Western South America.

An exception to the rule among birds of prey, the female condor is smaller than the male.

The Andean condor is a bird in the New World vulture family Cathartidae, which contains seven extant species in five varieties.

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