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Extreme-flying swifts make 200 day non-stop journey over Sahara  

Alphin swifts making long journeys without stopping to roost.
Alpine swifts make long journeys without landing to roost.Daniele Occhiato

Three Alpine swifts have nabbed a long-distance flying record after completing non-stop 200-day journey across the Sahara. The 1,240-mile journey is the longest recorded flight made by any bird, scientists say.

The migrating swifts didn't even land to rest or sleep, and instead spent the nights gliding, and "roosting on the wing," the data indicates. Ornithologists from the Swiss Ornithological Institute and Bern University of Applied Sciences, Engineering and Information Technology tracked the birds using lightweight sensors that measured their wing movements and body angles. 

A sequence of images shows an Alpine Swift in flight
A sequence of images shows an Alpine swift in flightPau Artigas (

Ornithologists have long-suspected that Alpine swifts are extreme fliers, but this is the first time they've monitored the animals through their seven-month-long flight. The results published in Tuesday's issue of Nature Communications.

Swifts aren't alone in going for days without rest. Other swifts and sea birds like albatross can stay in the air for days, resting one hemisphere of their brains at a time. Similarly, marine mammals dolphins and whales perform "unihemispheric sleep" with half their brains alert and active. And, as if being a new mom wasn't hard enough, females dolphins and killer whales must put up with newborns that don't sleep for the first months of their lives

More about sleep in animals: 

Felix Liechti, Willem Witvliet, Roger Weber, and Erich Bachler are authors of "First evidence of a 200-day non-stop flight in a bird." 

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and technology. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.