Incredible condor soared for 100 miles without flapping its wings

Scientists are learning more about how big birds take advantage of air currents.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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Turns out that Andean condors don't have to flap their wings much.

Facundo Vital

Look, ma, no wing flaps.

An Andean condor, one of the largest flying birds on the planet, soared through the air for 100 miles (172 kilometers) and didn't bother with flapping its wings. This epic example of flight comes to us from a team led by researchers at Swansea University in the UK.

The scientists took a deep look at the connection between environmental conditions and the amount of effort large birds put into their flights. To do this, they attached data recorders to Andean condors that allowed them to log every single flap of the wings as well as the birds' flight paths. 

The study, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that Andean condors only flap their wings for about 1% of their flight time. Most of that happened during takeoffs and when flying near the ground.

The condors' soaring stamina is impressive, but these heavy birds must pick their battles when it comes to expending energy on wing flaps. 

"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."

The study draws a connection between today's condors and some extinct giants that were "more like a dragon." "Overall, this can help explain how extinct birds with twice the wingspan of condors could have flown," the paper suggests.

There could be some life lessons for humans in here, too. You don't always have to break a sweat. Sometimes the easiest route is the best one.