By Kimberly Solis on October 1, 2016
The great frigatebird, a species of seabird found across the world’s tropical seas, possesses a 7 foot wingspan — the largest of any bird species its size. Past research had indicated that these adept pilots could stay aloft as long as a week at a time. It turns out, that the experts and even Christopher Columbus, who noticed the birds on his 1492 voyage to the Americas — and remarked “does not alight on the sea nor depart from land 20 leagues (70 miles)” — had vastly underestimated the magnificent bird’s flying prowess and smarts!
The indepth study of the frigatebirds, published in the journal Science on July 1, was led by Henri Weimerskirch of the Chizé Center for Biological Studies in France. It involved attaching solar-powered transmitters to 50 frigatebirds on Europa Island, a channel located between Mozambique and Madagascar. In addition to tracking each bird’s location, the tiny devices that weighed less than 10 grams, also collected data on the bird’s heart rate, speed, and altitude. From June to October, adult birds left the island and headed northwest to the Seychelles, a distance of about 1,548 miles. The researchers, who observed the birds from 2011 to 2015, say that instead of heading to their destination directly, many of the birds flew in large loops around the equator and the Indian Ocean.