How Far Can Birds Fly Without Needing to Land?

Advances in technology are allowing us to learn more and more about how birds can travel huge distances under their own power. Not long ago, tracking equipment was so heavy that it would weigh birds down. Now, very light GPS tracking equipment – less than 1.5 grams – can be used to track birds without hampering their flights.

Biologist who fitted GPS trackers to the aptly named wandering albatross have found that these large birds can travel at least 15,000 km (just under 10,000 miles) over the sea before returning to land. That’s like flying non-stop from Houston, Texas to Perth, Australia. Many commercial jets cannot do that!

Houston to Perth
Houston to Perth

Even more amazingly, the wandering albatross seems to be able to stay in the skies above its Southern Ocean habitat for as long as it wants to, only needing to flap its wings every few hours. And what amazing wings they are – at a span of 3.5 meters, (11.5 feet) – the wandering albatross’s wings are the longest of any bird currently on Earth. The albatross flies so efficiently that it uses less energy in flight than when it’s sitting on dry land!

Albatrosses soar with amazing prowess over the Southern Ocean using a flying technique called dynamic soaring. Dynamic soaring allows albatrosses to tap into the energy of the wind, and can be used when the wind speed is higher than 30 km per hour, or 18 mph – which it usually is.

In 1873, the French write Jules Verne wrote his famous novel in which Phileas Fogg of London, attempts, against all odds, to get Around the World in Eighty Days. With the opening of a new railway in India, a newspaper makes the claim that it should be possible to make a complete circuit of Earth in eighty days. Fogg accepts the challenge, and after many adventures, succeeds by the skin of his teeth. Of course, the challenge would not have been a problem for an albatross. In fact, a gray-headed albatross was recorded making a complete circuit of our planet in just 46 days.

Wandering Albatross
A wandering albatross above the ocean. Image by Charlie Westerinen.

We now know that the wandering albatross only comes to dry land when it’s time to breed. Once a chick leaves the nest, it may stay at sea for as long as five years.

Albatrosses are long-lived birds, and can live to more than 60 years of age. Sadly, their numbers are declining because of long-line fishing boats. Baited lines up to 130 km (80 miles) in length are pulled behind boats. The albatrosses are attracted to the bait, then get caught on the lines and drowned.

The wandering albatross was first recorded by the Swedish botanist and zoologist Carl Linnaeus in 1758. Linnaeus also gave the bird its Latin name, Diomedea exulans.


Scientists In Pop Songs – The Top 10

Pop music needs science and technology: microphones, amplifiers, electric guitars, synthesizers, light shows and dry-ice are all examples of science applied to the world of entertainment.

While scientists and science aren’t what pop groups usually sing about, a few have briefly pushed the boundaries of their genre and namechecked some famous scientists.

Here’s our list of the Top 10 Scientists in pop songs.

1. Galileo Galiliei

GalileoGalileo Galiliei was one of the greatest scientists of the Renaissance.

Many people think of him as the father of modern physics.

His name appears in Queen’s biggest hit, Bohemian Rhapsody, perhaps a contribution from the group’s guitarist Brian May, who studied astrophysics at university before quitting academia for the band. Many years later, Brian May completed a PhD in astrophysics.

Galileo has also made it into other tunes, not just in the lyrics but in the title. Amy Grant, Indigo Girls and Celtic Thunder have all issued tracks called Galileo.

2. Isaac Newton

Newton, one of physics’ all-time greats, is a popular figure in songs including Super Pop by Madonna, Revisionism Street by Bob Seger, Sounds of Science by the Beastie Boys, and Man on the Moon by REM.

3. Albert Einstein

Einstein was the 20th century’s scientific superstar. It’s not surprising he was a hit in popular music too.

Several songs feature his name in their titles including Einstein by Kelly Clarkson, Einstein was a Surfer by Jimmy Buffett, Einstein on the Beach, by Counting Crows, The World’s Address by They Might Be Giants, and Einstein A Go-Go by Landscape. The Landscape tune features the ominous lyrics:

“You’d better watch out, you’d better beware, Albert said that E equals M C squared.”

4. Thomas Edison

Edison produced electric lights and his name is remembered in Edison by the Bee Gees, Edison’s Medicine by Tesla, and The Wizard of Menlo Park by Chumbawamba.

5. Alexander Graham Bell

Bell is best known for inventing the telephone and is remembered in the lyrics of Gone to Pieces by Nik Kershaw, Best is Yet to Come by XV, and New World by NAS.

6. Nikola Tesla

The developer of a.c. electricity gets more than a mention in a song, or even a song title. The rock group TESLA took their name from the great man.

Tesla Rock Group in Concert

The American Rock Group Tesla in Concert. Image by Äppelmos.

Tesla is also a song title from They Might Be Giants, featuring the lyric:

“Brought the AC power to the world
Here is a mind that can see across space
Here is a mind soaring free.”

7. Nicolaus Copernicus

Copernicus, who is responsible for the modern heliocentric view of the solar system is remembered in the title of The Mars Volta song Copernicus. He is also mentioned in The Sound Of the Life of The Mind by Ben Folds Five and The World’s Address by They Might Be Giants.

8. Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin who, along with Alfred Russel Wallace, discovered the concept of evolution by natural selection gets a mention in Man on the Moon by REM and Never Be Moved by Clutch.

9. Archimedes

The greatest mathematician and scientist of the ancient world is mentioned by Al Stewart in Beleeka Doodle Day.

10. Marie Curie

Marie Curie, the only person to have won Nobel Prizes in both chemistry and physics, is namechecked in Dinner with Gershwin by Donna Summer.