Eric is a bookwormy and logophilic science and technology teacher. He often writes about scientific thought, theories and, research.
What Birds Fly the Highest?
Birds are very common flying animals, in fact, we probably see them every day. They are found everywhere, singing in the trees, walking on the top of roofs, and soaring in the sky.
But have you ever wondered which bird flies the highest? Did you know that there is a bird that flies higher than the height of the highest peak of the earth? There is also a bird that flies nonstop while passing the world's largest ocean.
This article discusses the following top 10 birds that fly the highest in the world:
10. White stork
9. Bar-tailed godwit
7. Andean condor
6. Bearded vulture
5. Alpine chough
4. Whooper swan
3. Bar-headed goose
2. Common crane
1. Rüppell's griffon vulture
10. White Stork
Scientific name: Ciconia ciconia
The white stork is a large, long-legged, and long-necked wading bird of the ciconiiform family, Ciconiidae. The bird's plumage is mainly white with black wingtips. It has a red, pointed bill, legs, and webbed feet. It may stand 4 feet high, and weigh 3.4 kg. The wingspan is 7 feet wide.
White stork inhabits various terrestrial wetlands. It forages frogs, fish, insects, and other small invertebrates. This species breeds throughout Europe. It is known for its courtship and mating dance which include clattering of the bill, bending the neck backward, and lifting the head up. The dance is accompanied by a mating call.
During winter, this bird migrates to Africa and the Indian subcontinent to escape the extreme cold weather. During migration, it can fly as high as 4.8 km above sea level. For comparison, the white stork can fly almost 15 times higher than Eiffel Tower.
9. Bar-Tailed Godwit
Scientific name: Limosa lapponica
The bar-tailed godwit belongs to the sandpiper family, Scolopacidae. It has a grayish-brown plumage with a white chest and abdomen, a long red beak, and long blue-gray legs. The bar-tailed godwit is a large wader that can weigh up to 630 grams and can grow up to 16 inches long. It has a wingspan that ranges from 28– to 31 inches. The bird lives in wetlands. It feeds mainly on bristle-worms but has been known to eat bivalves, crustaceans, and many kinds of invertebrates.
During breeding seasons, this migratory bird changes color — the grayish-brown feathers become dark brown while the white feathers become red. Breeding takes place in the Arctic region. During winter, it migrates to Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and South Asia. The bird can fly as high as 6 km to avoid falling into the water when passing the seas.
The bar-tailed godwits that fly across the Pacific Ocean from Alaska to New Zealand hold the record for the longest non-stop flight of any bird and longest journey without taking a break to rest or feed, by any animal. Their round-trip migration is over 29,000 km that lasts for 11 days.
Scientific name: Anas platyrhynchos
The mallards or wild ducks are medium-sized waterfowl. They are the ancestor of almost all breeds of domesticated ducks. Their length reaches 16 inches and their weight reaches 1.6 kg. They have a wingspan that reaches 39 inches.
The mallards show sexual dimorphism, meaning the males are distinguishable from females. The females are covered with brown and tan plumage. The males, however, have green head feathers, with a white ring around their neck. The chest and the body are gray. Both sexes have yellow beaks, orange legs, and orange webbed feet. They also have white-edged purple or blue patch on their wings.
They can be found on all continents of the world except in Antarctica. The population of mallards in American continents breeds in Canada and Northern USA. During winter, however, they migrate to the Southern USA, Mexico, and some parts of Central and South America.
The mallards that breed in Northeastern Europe, Northern Asia, and Central Asia migrate to Eastern Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the rest of Europe, and some parts of Africa during winter. The Oceanian populations appear to be more sedentary. When migrating, these wild ducks can fly as high as 6.4 kilometers above sea level at an average speed of 55 miles per hour.
They prefer to live near wetlands, rivers, coastlines, lakes, and ponds. They can also be found in cities. The majority of their diets are snails, bivalves, insects, crustaceans, worms, and plant materials.
7. Andean Condor
Scientific name: Vultur gryphus
The Andean condor is a New World vulture species native to the Andes and Santa Marta mountain ranges of western South America. This condor is generally considered to be the largest bird of prey and heaviest flying animal alive today. It has a wingspan of 3.3 meters and a body mass of 15 kg. It may stand around 1.2 meters high.
Like other typical vultures, the Andean condor has an excellent vision and smell and can sense things at long distances. It can see four to five times farther than the average human can. It soars high in the sky to scan food and spot predators on the ground. It usually feeds on carrion or the decaying flesh of dead animals. This condor has a largely bald head and black plumage. It is distinctive from other vultures by having a white collar around its neck and patches of white on the wings.
Andean condor is the national bird of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. It can soar at an altitude of 6.5 kilometers above the ground. For comparison, the Andean condor can soar almost 8 times higher than Burj Khalifa, the tallest manmade structure in the world which has a height of 830 meters. Since Andean condor is a very heavy bird, it has difficulty in taking off so it prefers to stay in windy areas. The air current helps it to keep aloft and also to boost its speed.
6. Bearded Vulture
Scientific name: Gypaetus barbatus
The bearded vulture, also known as lammergeier and ossifrage, is found in Northern South Asia, Southern Europe, and Eastern Africa. It can grow up to 4 feet in height and can weigh 10-15 lbs. The wingspan is 7-9 feet. Unlike a typical vulture, the bearded vulture is not bald. The bird has white feathers on the head, shoulder chest, and abdomen, the rest of the body is gray or black. The vulture can soar with an altitude of 7.3 km.
The bearded vulture shows some odd behavior. It is the only known bird that dyes itself. It stains its white feathers with red rusty clay. The reason for dying its body is unknown, but it probably serves as camouflage or a symbol of status in its territory.
The bearded vulture's feeding habit is also odd. It prefers to feed on bones and other hard tissues instead of flesh. This species brings the bone into the air at a great height, then drops the hard tissue to the rock on the ground to crack the bone into pieces. The bird also applies this skill to the hard shell of turtles. It brings the turtle into the sky then drops the reptile into the ground to crack the turtle's shell.
5. Alpine Chough
Scientific name: Pyrrhocorax graculus
Alpine chough belongs to the crow family, Corvidae. It is a medium-sized bird with a length ranging from 13 to 15 inches. It has a wingspan of 30 to 33 inches. Its weight ranges from 180 to 270 grams. At the first glance, its plumage appears entirely black but it is actually deep blue-green. The beak is yellow and the legs are red.
Alpine chough can soar as high as 8 km above sea level and prefers to stay in high-altitude areas like the mountains of Spain, Morroco, Southern Europe, and the Himalayas. It inhabits the mountains’ caves, cracks in rocks, cliffs, and trees. The bird generally feeds on insects, small vertebrates, snails, eggs, seeds, and fruits. Sometimes, the bird goes down to the urban areas to scavenge food scraps.
4. Whooper Swan
Scientific name: Cygnus cygnus
The whooper swans are supposed to be the most romantic bird on the list. Due to their grace, they are often chosen a topic in poems, music, and other forms of literature. The whooper swans are large migratory swans that breed in Russia and Northern Europe but migrate to East Asia, the Middle East, and Southern Europe during winter.
They can fly at a height of 8.2 km. The swans have a wingspan of 9 feet, the length of the body is 5 feet and 3 inches, and the body mass is 14 kg. Their waterproof plumage is entirely white. Their legs and webbed feet are black. Their broad black bill is patched with orange-yellow.
These birds are known for their whooping call, hence their name. They prefer to live in wetlands, streams, and lakes, spending their time swimming. They are herbivores that feed mainly on aquatic plants.
Whooper swans are known for their courtship displays. A pair face each other and quiver their half-opened wings. They touch their beaks to kiss and their neck curve forming a shape of a heart. While flying, their wings generate a sound that is like music.
3. Bar-Headed Goose
Scientific name: Anser indicus
The bar-headed goose is a waterfowl that has white and pale gray plumage. It also has black bars on its head where it got its name. Its beak and legs are yellow. Bar-headed goose can grow up to 30 inches long and weighs up to 3 kg. It has a wingspan of 5.3 feet.
It prefers to live in wetlands, lakes, grassland, streams, and marshes. It is a herbivore that mainly feeds on grasses, seaweeds, grains, and leaves, and stems.
The bar-headed goose breeds in Central Asia, however, during winter, it migrates to South Asia. The bird can fly as high as 8481 meters from the ground, especially, when migrating, it passes the Himalayan Mountains, one of its migration routes.
2. Common Crane
Scientific name: Grus grus
The common crane, also called the Eurasian crane, is a large, sociable bird of the crane family, Gruidae. It can grow up to is 4.3 feet in length and weigh up to 6 kilograms. It has a long wingspan of almost 8 feet.
The common crane has a slate-gray plumage with dark gray throat, face, and wings and a red patch on the top of the head. It has a very long bill and legs. The yellow bill is pointed, and sharp, useful for spearing its prey.
It prefers to live in wetlands, lakes, and grassy fields to forage for plant materials, frogs, crabs, snails, worms, rodents, small birds, insects, and other bugs.
Like the white stork, the common crane is known for its magical courting and mating dance. It jumps, bobs, spins and lifts the head up. Breeding takes place in Russia, Nothern Asia, and many parts of Europe.
During winter, it migrates to Africa, Southern Europe, India, and Eastern Asia to escape the cold environment. In one day, common cranes may travel up to 400 kilometers with an altitude of 10 kilometers. It prefers to migrate at night to avoid predators.
1. Rüppell's Griffon Vulture
Scientific name: Gyps rueppelli
The Rüppell's griffon vulture is an endangered species of vulture that inhabits grasslands, mountains, and woodlands of Central and Eastern Africa. The bird is large and can be measured at almost 3.3 feet in length and weigh up to 9kg. It has a wingspan of 8.5 feet.
The vulture has a bald head and a white collar around its neck. The rest of the body is covered with brown or black plumage. It is very social and gathers to feed on carrion.
Rüppel's griffon vulture flies moderately slow. It can fly at an average speed of 35 kph. It can stay airborne for long periods, about 6-7 hours regularly. Rüppel's griffon vulture has been reported flying at an altitude of 11.3 km.
For comparison, the bird can fly 2 times higher than the height of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak of Africa, and 1.3 times higher if compared to the height of Mount Everest. For this reason, the Rüppell griffon vulture is considered to be the highest flying bird in the world.
Sources of Information:
- mallard | bird | Britannica
- Bar-Tailed Godwit - Facts, Diet, Habitat, and Pictures | Animalia Bio
- White Stork | Science Direct
- Bearded vulture | WWF
- Andean Condor | The Peregrine Fund
- Andean Condor Heads List of Raptors in Steep Decline | Society for the Protection of Nature in Leban
- The Bar-Headed Goose | Avibirds
- Whooper Swan - Facts, Diet, Habitat and Pictures | Animalia Bio
- Alpine Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus) Facts | Bird Fact
- Highest Flying Birds | WorldAtlas
- Rüppell's Vulture: Facts, Diet, Habitat & Pictures | Animalia Bio
- A Common Crane Overview | ScienceDirect Topics
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Eric Caunca