An albatross takes off. How long before it touches down again?
December 17, 2021 3:39 PM   Subscribe

I mentioned to my kid that albatrosses can fly for 14 days non-stop. I don't know where I got that from, probably a book when I was a kid myself. Trying to verify this now and I'm turning up nothing. Not about 14 days or any other number of days.

I've done some Google searches but nothing seems to answer the specific question. I was expecting that the Google or Wikipedia would answer this quickly but either I'm missing it in the results or the info isn't in the first couple of pages or results.

Many pages will say that they can spend years before returning to land but in that time they will touch down on water in order to eat and drink. I want to know how long they can fly before they need to touch down somewhere, land, water, tree doesn't matter.

Pages mention that they can sleep for short bursts while flying so maybe they don't need to touch down in order to sleep, or maybe there's a point after which the short bursts don't cut it and they actually do need to sleep on water for a few hours.

I'm perfectly happy to tell my kid that I was wrong and it's some other time period or even that we don't know yet but not being able to give an answer with something to back it up is really annoying me.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

This article seems to back you up about them not touching land for a long time, Smithsonian mag: amazing Albatrosses
posted by TheAdamist at 3:53 PM on December 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: That actually answers the question my kid asked which was which bird can fly for the longest. So I can tell him that it's the common swift and 10 months but I would still like to clarify the albatross issue.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:55 PM on December 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Researchers stuck some 2oz GPS trackers on 16 albatrosses, and they tracked one of them staying aloft for 46 days, flapping its wings once every few hours.

Here's a fun one: these researchers attached trackers to 200 albatrosses, trackers which could detect radar waves from nearby ships. As a result, they could detect ships that were running without their AIS trackers enabled, where AIS is a publicy-accessible global tracking system for vessels. Ships in this part of the ocean with AIS disabled were likely illegal fishing vessels.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:01 PM on December 17, 2021 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: That Independent article doesn't say that the albatross was up in the air for 46 days just that they can circumnavigate the globe in that amount of time. The researchers the second article mentions put trackers on the birds but I read their paper and it wasn't what they were researching so there was no mention of it there and in the tracking data they posted* they only have lat/long values and not altitude so I couldn't tell if for any given period the bird was on the water or circling in the air.

* It is quite amazing that I can read their journal article and download their tracking data even if it doesn't answer my question.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:12 PM on December 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Here's an abstract of a paper by John Croxhall and others - available here - and cited in this Guardian "around the world in 46 days" article. They tracked a Grey Headed albatross on a foraging flight of duration nine hours and distance of more than 110km - with "virtually no rest". So - I think you would be safe in assuming the birds could happily go for 10 hours or more in the air - and possibly a few days (but not as verified by this particular paper). In that time they would cover a distance in that time which was determined by the wind velocity. On top of this, larger albatross species can spend up to 6 years at sea before returning to the site from which they fledged. (John Croxhall, who works for the British Antarctic Survey - seems to be a busy guy - but it is possible he could give you a definitive answer).
posted by rongorongo at 4:47 AM on December 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I sent an email to John Croxall. It'll be interesting to see if he responds and if he knows the answer. I'm not counting on a reply though and in my email I did say that he can ignore it so hopefully I'm not adding anything unwanted to his workload.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:12 PM on December 22, 2021

« Older Another Diabetic Question: Finding Optimism and...   |   Never Received IRS Adjusted Refund Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments