How do birds rest when they fly over the oceans for several weeks?

The world's oceans occupy almost 70.8% of the Earth's surface. During migration, birds often fly over seas and oceans, and covering such vast distances can take weeks. Despite the fact that many species of birds weigh little, they have to expend a lot of energy flapping their wings. Like all other animals, they need rest from time to time, because it’s not for nothing that they say that “the slower you go, the faster you will go.” On land there are many places for birds to rest. But for many years scientists could not understand how they rest when there are only kilometers of water beneath them. Scientists have conducted many studies and, to our great happiness, they have produced their results. Researchers have already found answers to their questions and are ready to share them with us.

How birds rest when they fly over the oceans for several weeks. Even during a long flight over the ocean, birds find a way to rest. Photo.

Even during a long flight over the ocean, birds find a way to rest

How birds fly long distances

The authors of the scientific publication IFL Science spoke about how birds rest while flying over the seas and oceans. To explain this, they cited as an example the results of two studies by ornithologists – specialists who study the life of birds. Researchers estimate that there are about 2,000 species of birds in the world that regularly fly hundreds of kilometers. That is, 20% of all bird species living on Earth are considered migratory.

One study found that for some bird species, the best strategy during long flights is to keep going. In 2021, ornithologists studied five species of birds that fly long distances during autumn migration.

How birds fly long distances. Peregrine falcon bird. Source: Wikipedia, Carlos Delgado. Photo.

Peregrine falcon bird. Source: Wikipedia, Carlos Delgado

How birds fly long distances. Osprey bird. Source: Photo.

Osprey bird. Source:

It turned out that at least peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) and ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) rely on strong winds during long flights. To rest, they spread their wings and fly without flapping – this allows them to save a lot of energy and successfully fly to their destination.

Interesting fact:Peregrine falcons are birds of prey that are found everywhere except Antarctica. Flying at speeds of up to 322 kilometers per hour, they are not only the fastest birds in the world, but also the fastest animals in general. However, they achieve such speed only in diving flight – in horizontal flight they are much inferior to swifts.

According to the lead author of the study, Elham Nourani, before their study it was believed that there was no lifting force over the seas and oceans that could give birds a rest. But they were able to prove that migratory birds specially adjust their flights so that the wind helps them cover long distances.

Read also: These birds can fly for hours without ever flapping their wings

How birds rest

There are also species of birds that cannot use the lifting force of the wind to rest. They use ships as transit points – do not forget that the seas and oceans have long been well developed by people. During the 2022 expedition, scientists were able to count at least 20 species of birds that boarded ships to take a break.

How birds rest. Many birds prefer to rest for 40 minutes on ships. Source: Photo.

Many birds prefer to rest for 40 minutes on ships. Source:

Calculations have shown that, on average, birds rest on ships for 42 minutes, and then set off again. They most likely don't stop for long due to the small amount of food on the ships – even if they try to get something, the crew will quickly scare them away. In general, it is better for birds not to linger over the seas and oceans at all, because they can only find food and shelter over land. And every break during a long flight only lengthens the dangerous journey.

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Record holders among birds

As you can understand from everything written above, some birds can fly for weeks and rest at a minimum. But did you know that swifts can fly for 10 months without landing? Ornithologist Ronald Lockley first guessed this back in the 1970s, and several decades later scientists proved it by tracking 13 swifts using sensors attached to them. Observations showed that over a ten month period they spent 99.5% of their time in the sky. You can read about how they manage not to get tired and die of hunger in our article “How swifts fly for 10 months without landing and do not die.”

Record holders among birds. Tiny swifts can fly for months without touching land. Source: Photo.

Tiny swifts can fly for months without touching land. Source:

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On our website there are other articles about the amazing features of birds. For example, right now you can read our material “Why chickens can’t fly like all other birds.” Also be sure to pay attention to the article “Why do birds fly and what makes them similar to flightless dinosaurs?”