High-flying duck can soar to altitudes of 22,000 feet

Researchers from the University of Exeter have discovered that ruddy shelducks fly over 22,000 feet in the air in order to cross the Himalayan mountain range, a new study published in the Journal of Avian Biology reports.
By Ian Marsh | Sep 08, 2017
Researchers from the University of Exeter have discovered that ruddy shelducks fly over 22,000 feet in the air in order to cross the Himalayan mountain range, a new study published in the Journal of Avian Biology reports.

The birds, like many avian species, migrate each year. However, they have a grueling route takes them from north of the Himalayas all the way to the sea level south of the Tibetan Plateau. In order to make that trip, the ducks must fly over the Himalayas during the spring. That is an extremely difficult task that requires them to travel 22,000 feet up into the air.

Researchers made this discovery by using satellite tracking to monitor 15 ruddy shelducks from two different populations that spend their winter south of the Tibetan Plateau. This revealed that the birds fly through valleys in the mountain range to avoid certain peaks. Not only has such behavior never been recorded before, the species flies higher than almost any other waterfowl on record.

"This is the first evidence of extreme high-altitude flight in a duck," said lead researcher Nicole Parr, a researcher at the University of Exeter, according toPhys.org.

The new data reveals that the ruddy shelduck has a faster climb rate than the bar-headed goose, which is currently the highest flying waterfowl known to science. Previous research tracked geese to over 23,000 feet near Mount Everest in 2014. While the ruddy shelduck flies high, it has not been recorded reaches those heights quite yet. Further research is needed to see if they can match those levels.

"This species has probably evolved a range of adaptations to be able to cope with flying so high, where oxygen levels are half those at sea level," added Parr, in a statement. "We don't yet know the nature of these adaptations."

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