Birdwatcher Trivia

Mary and I spotted a flock of about 100 huge white birds flying in a single V on the Turkey Float yesterday. I believe they were tundra swans, because the mute variety aren’t fond of flying at all if they can help it, and they definitely don’t fly at the altitude of a small jet plane like these birds were.  And trumpeter swans (formerly called whistling swans) are still very rare in the Midwest.

Which got me to wondering: how high do birds fly? Higher than you might think:

Bar-headed Geese are known to cross the Himalayas at 29,500 feet. The world record holder is a Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture seen at 37,000 feet. A Mallard, which struck an airplane at 21,000 feet, holds the record for the highest documented flight altitude for a bird in North America.

Even our humble little songbirds fly as high as 6,000 feet, although the majority of them migrate at 500 to 2,000 feet. This according to the Smithsonian National Zoo website, which has some really cool facts of bird migration.

Our earth is a stupendous place.

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4 responses to “Birdwatcher Trivia

  1. Rich Bailey has posted some photos he took of the trip at this website.

  2. There is a good possibility what you saw were white pelicans. Sounds odd, but they migrate into northern Canada in the summer and back south in the winter. They are incredibly acrobatic flyers and very strong. I saw them flying very high in Manitoba on a canoe trip in 2005 and had no idea what they were until I looked them up when I got home. Wished I’d seen them even though I was there!

    Jay

  3. Hm–hadn’t thought of white pelicans. I did consider snow geese as a possibility, but this flock didn’t act like geese. The striking thing was the enormous single V formation, rather than a series of smaller V’s as Canada geese seem to prefer.

    I’m still working on this one. Please post if you solve the mystery before I do.

  4. Good looking out! It’s amazing to think of the smaller birds flying thousands of feet in the air. You wouldn’t even see them up there unless they were in a large group. Even then, maybe not.

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