At what maximum height can birds fly?

There are approximately 10 thousand species of birds in the world. However, their exact number is unknown to scientists because they cannot agree on how to distinguish one species from another. But among all this variety of feathered creatures, there are amazing creatures that have unique abilities. An example is the swift, which weighs only 200 grams, but can fly thousands of kilometers without landing. And then there is the shoebill, which amazes with its huge beak, which helps it feed on baby crocodiles. Did you know that there is also a feathered creature in the world that can fly at the same altitude as airplanes? No other bird has been observed in conditions where there is very little oxygen.

At what maximum height can birds fly? There is a bird in the world that once flew at a height where there is very little oxygen. Photo.

There is a bird in the world that once flew at a height where there is very little oxygen

< h2>Maximum flight altitude of birds

It became known in 1973 which bird flies the highest. It was then that a plane flew over the African state of Côte d'Ivoire and accidentally shot down a bird at an altitude of 11,300 meters. As a result of the sudden collision, one of the aircraft's engines was damaged. Despite this failure, he successfully landed on the ground and no one was injured.

The maximum flight altitude of birds. In 1973, a plane shot down a bird at a record altitude. Photo.

In 1973, a plane shot down a bird at a record altitude

Unfortunately, the same could not be said about the bird that collided with the plane. All that was left of her were a couple dozen feathers. Thanks to them, bird specialists (ornithologists) were able to recognize the species of feathered creature. It turned out that the African vulture (Gyps rueppellii), also known as Rüppel's vulture, was able to rise to a height of more than 11,000 meters.

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

African birds feeding on carrion

African vultures are birds of prey that live in large numbers in the savannas of Africa. To be more precise, they have long chosen the Sahel region, located between the Sahara Desert and the grass-covered territory of the Republic of Sudan.

The body length of African vultures reaches 85 centimeters, and their body weight can reach 5 kilograms. That is, these are quite large birds that feel confident next to many animals. Their wingspan reaches 2 meters, and when they adjust their feathers, it is a rather alarming sight: what if this predator suddenly attacks and starts beating with its powerful feathers?

African birds feeding on carrion. African vulture. Photo by: Hans Hillewaert. Photo.

African vulture. Photo by: Hans Hillewaert

In fact, Rüppel's vultures are not the first to attack. They are scavengers, that is, they feed on the meat of already dead animals. Therefore, they live in places where there are many ungulates like giraffes. When lions attack striped horses or other animals, birds of prey quietly wait for them to leave, and then eat the leftovers with appetite.

The photographs clearly show that vultures have almost no feathers on their heads, especially large ones. Scientists believe this is due to the birds' tendency to burrow their heads deep into the carcasses of dead animals.

African birds feeding on carrion. There are almost no feathers on the heads of vultures. Photo by Wikipedia user 4028mdk09. Photo.

There are almost no feathers on the heads of vultures. Photo by: Wikipedia user 4028mdk09

African vultures live in groups, preferring rocky ledges. Typically, one colony contains from 10 to 1000 individuals, that is, these are truly family animals. They form pairs for life – when the female opens a pair of eggs into the nest, they hatch into chicks, which are cared for by both parents.

Despite the diversity of populations, today there are only about 22,000 individuals of this vulture species left in the world. They are on the verge of complete extinction because people are destroying their habitats, and they also lack carrion. In addition, many individuals have died from carbofuran poisoning, a powerful insect repellent that is fatal to Rüppell's vultures.

Many African vultures have also died from diclofenac. This medicine is actively used in veterinary medicine to treat inflammation in animals. Scavengers like vultures ate the meat of animals treated with this remedy and died from poisoning with a substance that was toxic to them.

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What birds fly high

In the end, it turns out that the maximum flight altitude of birds is 11,300 meters. But scientists believe that this was an isolated incident, because birds cannot stay at such a height for a long time due to the low amount of oxygen.

If we exclude African vultures, the record holders for flight altitude can be called gray cranes (Grus grus), which in case of danger can rise to 10,000 meters. Also worth mentioning are the mountain geese (Anser indicus), which were spotted at an altitude of 7,300 meters.

What birds fly high. Gray crane. Photo source: Photo.

Grey crane. Photo source:

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At the beginning of the article we mentioned swifts that fly for 10 months without landing and do not die – here is an article on this topic. Also be sure to read the article by my colleague Andrey Zhukov about shoebills feeding on baby crocodiles.