Do Birds Get Tired of Flying? (Find Out Here)

On average, birds travel as far as 16,000 miles during migration. Surprisingly, some species cover the entire distance in just one flight. They do not stop to catch a breath.

Does it mean birds do not get tired of flying? And what makes them fly non-stop? Keep reading to find out.

Do Birds Get Tired of Flying?

Birds get fatigued when they fly a long way. Usually, migrating birds have a high level of stamina. As a result, they can fly thousands of miles without taking a break. But after the flight, they feel exhausted.

I found a BBC Documentary on YouTube showing that flight muscles in birds show serious fatigue due to a long haul. Hence, these birds only cover short flying distances during the recovery period. Sadly, birds with low stamina get tired too early and can not reach their destination.

Hollow bones help the birds to stay in the air for longer hours. Physical characteristics like fewer wingbeats and air resistance also assist them in gliding in the air.

How Long Can a Bird Fly Before They Get Tired?

How long a bird can fly before getting tired depends on the bird species. For example, Common Swift Birds. These birds incredibly stay on a flight for at least 10 months a year.

Due to their unique physical adaptation, these birds can hunt, sleep, and even mate in the air. They do not touch the ground unless the weather goes south.

Alpine Swift birds also have this special ability. They can fly non-stop for more than 200 days. Likewise, the Great Frigatebird stays on a flight for around 2 months during migration. The female Bar-tailed godwit birds will stay airborne for 8 days straight and cover 7,145 miles without getting tired.

How Long Can Birds Fly?

A seagull flying with wings spread

Birds can fly for up to 10 months, covering a distance of around 60,000 miles. However, flight time depends on several factors.

Research from Stanford explains that birds in their local areas will wear out after flying for 5 hours at 15 to 20 mph. The same bird can take flight for weeks and even months during migration.

Basically, birds can either minimize their energy use per unit of time or maximize the distance they travel with their energy. A migrating bird can stay airborne for longer because they spend their energy covering the distance as quickly as possible.

How Long Can a Bird Fly Without Stopping?

There are some bird species here that can incredibly fly without stopping. For instance, a Bar-tailed Godwit bird. This bird set a world record for flying for 11 days straight and has covered 8,435 miles from Alaska to Australia without stopping.

Short-tailed Shearwaters also participate in long hauls (approximately 40,000 miles). Though the travels last 6 weeks, these birds rest every 4 or 5 days. Red Knot, the migratory shorebirds, will fly for 6 days non-stop.

Albatross are true wonders in this case. They can fly for a year without touching the ground. However, they have to sit on the water occasionally. Similarly, common swifts can take a flight of 10 months and do not even rest on the water.

How High Can Birds Fly?

According to BirdNote’s article, birds usually fly at a low height, under 500 feet. However, they will fly at a higher altitude depending on the location and wind direction.

Here I created a table that lists some of the high-flying birds:

BirdMaximum Height
Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture37,000 Feet
Bar-headed Goose29,000 Feet
Whooper Swan27,000 Feet
Alpine Chough26,000 Feet
Bearded Vulture24,000 Feet
Andean Condor21,000 Feet
Mallard Ducks21,000 feet
Bar-tailed Godwit20,000 Feet

Here’s a fact: do you know that, Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture is known as the highest-flying bird in the world? Yes, this bird has been recorded flying over 37,000 feet high in the sky. But sadly, it once collided with a commercial jet at that altitude in 1973. Here’s the photo of this incident:

A Rüppell's Griffon Vulture collided with a commercial jet.
Image Source: Vulture Conservation Foundation

Why Do Some Birds Fly So High?

Some birds fly high because the thin air up there lets them glide smoothly and save energy during long migrations.

Another reason for taking such high flights is to avoid dehydration. The air near the ground is warm and might tire out the birds completely. As energy expenditure is also minimal at a height, migratory birds often climb high and fly.

Many migratory bird flocks fly high to avoid predators. They seem to find their destination coordination easily from a height. The bird’s heart, lungs, and muscles can adapt to oxygen uptake and intensive exertion. So they face no issue flying at a high altitude.

Can Birds Sleep While Flying?

Birds can sleep while flying without even crashing on the ground. For example, Frigate birds engage in both regular sleep and half-sleep during their month-long migration trip.

Biologically speaking, birds can enjoy two types of sleep: SWS (slow-wave sleep) and REM (rapid eye movement sleep). In SWS, one or both sides of the brain hemispheres can sleep, and eyes connected to the hemispheres will stay awake.

Migratory birds sleep with half their brains, keeping their eyes open for navigation. This keeps them relaxed and their body functioning. Engaging in REM is difficult while flying. Hence, birds compensate for the lost sleep after they reach their destination.

How Do Birds Manage Their Energy During Flight?

Birds prepare for their long flight beforehand so that they do not fall weak in the middle. They start to eat more and start putting on weights 2 to 3 weeks before the migration.

Many species double their weight and turn their body into fat reservoirs. These birds also keep eating protein and carbohydrates to produce energy later when necessary.

After taking off from the ground, birds will climb to a height to feel light. They will adjust their direction towards the wind flow to glide through the air. It reduces their energy expenditure during the non-stop flights.

How Do Birds Rest and Recover After Flying Long Distances?

A seagull perched on a wooden post by the sea

Migratory birds only stop at a place with ample food, fewer predators, and suitable shelters. Selecting the right resting or destination spot is crucial for their recovery and survival.

As birds can not get enough sleep during the flights, they sleep long hours once they land. This fills the glycogen content in their brains and makes them stress-free.

For a faster recovery, the birds lower their heart rate and invest all their energy in repairing the muscles. They eat plenty and refrain from long flights or intensive physical activity.

Can Birds Fly Over the Ocean and How Long?

Many birds can fly over the ocean and do you know what’s interesting? Some birds fly incredibly very long distances over the ocean. For example, Wandering Albatross. They can fly almost 10,000 miles over the sea without landing. These birds use dynamic soaring to tap into the wind’s energy, allowing them to stay airborne with little effort.

Related: Can Birds Fly In The Rain?

Likewise, larger land birds like the Oriental Honey Buzzard can fly 700 kilometers nonstop across the East China Sea for about 18 hours. Another example is the Great Snipe, a migratory bird that can fly nonstop for up to 90 hours and cover up to 3,728 miles.

Do Birds Get Tired of Flying Over the Ocean?

Birds flying over the ocean don’t get tired because their bodies are made for efficient flying. They have hollow bones connected to air sacs that help increase the oxygen in their blood, giving them more energy to fly. Moreover, they also use techniques like gliding to save energy.

Before migrating long distances, birds increase their fat reserves by up to 60% to sustain them during the journey.

Additionally, birds use a unique sleep method called unihemispheric slow-wave sleep which I mentioned earlier. However, in this method, one-half of their brain rests while the other half stays alert. This allows birds to relax while still watching for predators or changing direction.

What Do Migratory Birds Do When they Reach their Destination?

When migratory birds arrive at their destination, they focus on resting and recovering energy after their long journey.

They start breeding activities, such as establishing territories and building nests to raise their young. Besides that, many birds go through molting, where they shed old feathers and grow new ones.

This is important for their survival as it helps them stay healthy and improves their ability to fly for the return journey.


Birds do get tired of flying non-stop. But an interesting fact is that these creatures can sleep while on a flight. They rest enough after reaching their destination to recover for the next journey.