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flight

Soaring with Redtails

A Red-tailed Hawk soars on broad, rounded wings, the epitome of effortless flight. Without flapping, it traces a leisurely, rising circle. The hawk is riding a thermal, a column of warm rising air generated near the earth's surface by heat from the sun. The Red-tail periodically circles to stay... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight

Hummingbirds Are Mighty Puffballs

What bird can fly straight up and down, backward and forward, and even upside down? A hummingbird can do all this -- and fly up to 75 miles an hour. And most amazing of all? This bird can slow from 25 miles an hour to a dead stop in a space no longer than your index finger! Learn more about this... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight

Pelagic Birding Trip

If you want to see an albatross, you'll have to go offshore. Our goal lies west: the edge of the Continental Shelf, 35 nautical miles away. In the pelagic realm, we pass among thousands of shearwaters, migrating south to nest near New Zealand, in the austral summer. Someone shouts "Albatross!"... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  birdwatching, flight

Birds and Navigation

The natural world sends us messages if we’re open to receiving them. Ancient navigators put their trust in the birds’ amazing ability to find dry land, no matter how far they were from safe harbor. read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight, migration

Great Snipe - The Fastest Long-distance Migrant

One summer, Swedish ornithologists attached tiny tracking devices to ten Great Snipes. A year later, they found that one bird had flown from Sweden to Central Africa, a distance of 4,225 miles, in just three and a half days. Several bird species are known to fly faster than 60 miles per hour, and... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight, migration

Bird in Flight, Strong but Light

The feathers of a bird are, for their weight, among the strongest structures in the world. The bones of this Magnificent Frigatebird weigh less than its feathers! To further reduce weight while maintaining strength, many bird bones are fused. In addition, the pectoral and pelvic girdles and ribs... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight, science

Chorus Line in the Sky

A flock of small shorebirds (like these Western Sandpipers) twists and turns, glittering in the sky. When threatened by a falcon, these birds take to the air, flying so close together that it's hard for a predator to capture one. A bird at one edge turns toward the middle, and a wave sweeps... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight

Pigeon Flocks Follow the Leader

The flocking movements of homing pigeons are governed by a pecking order. Higher-ranked birds have more influence over how the flock moves. Leading birds change directions first, and followers swiftly copy the leader's movements. And birds at the front of the flock tend to make the navigational... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight

How High Birds Fly II

Bar-headed Geese, champions of high-altitude migration, leave their nesting grounds in Tibet and scale the Himalayan range on their way to wintering grounds in the lowlands of India. How do they do it? These geese have a breathing structure that extracts oxygen from thin air, even at 30,000 feet.... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight

Black-footed Albatross, Graceful Giant

Just a couple dozen miles off the Northwest coast, immense dark birds with long, saber-shaped wings glide without effort above the waves. These graceful giants are Black-footed Albatrosses, flying by the thousands near the edge of the continental shelf. Black-footed Albatrosses do not breed until... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight

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