How high do birds fly?

Our fourth science book was published in late 2018. New ones are coming out in May 2019 and November 2019. In this blog we are returning to some of the early columns of Ask Your Science Teacher,  published in 2009. The columns are updated and revised. Many originally ran in The Tomah Journal at the behest of John Kenny, Publisher. We hope you enjoy them, and please give feedback.

Question:

How high do birds fly?

Answer:

            According to the Guinness Book of Records, the highest recorded flight for a bird was in November of 1973 when a vulture collided with a jet airliner over the Ivory Coast in Africa. The passenger jet was cruising at 37,000 ft when the vulture was sucked into one of the jet engines. The U.S. Museum of Natural History identified the bird by examining the feathers.  The jet landed safely.

            The highest recorded altitude for a bird in the United States was a mallard duck that was ingested into the engine of a commercial jet over Nevada in 1963. The duck was flying at 21,000 feet. The plane crashed killing all on board.

            Most migrating birds fly at less than a 1000 ft above the ground. Scientist believe that the less dense air at high altitudes poses a problem for most birds. The lighter air at high altitudes gives birds less lift. It is to their advantage to fly low. The air pressure difference between the cavities in the head of the bird and the outside pressure cause problems of discomfort. The same thing happens to people when airliners land with a high rate of descent.

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