Ruddy shelducks are a species of high-flying ducks which, according to a new study, are capable of crossing over the Himalayas at some 22,000 feet high.
The species is known for breeding to the north of the Himalaya mountain range. They were also noted to spend the winters at sea level, to the south of the Tibetan Plateau.
To return to their breeding areas, these ducks have to cross a terrain with a height of over 4,000 meters. One where the oxygen levels are also halved. So a team of researcher set out to establish how they can do so.
Ruddy Shelducks, the First Examples of “Extreme High-Altitude Flight” in Ducks
University of Exeter scientists are behind the new study. They made use of satellite tracking to try and determine the flight patterns of the ruddy shelduck. In doing so, the team noted that these ducks usually fly through the valleys of the mountain range. They also avoid the massive peaks of the mountain range, for example, Everest, during their migration.
“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. We don’t yet know the nature of these adaptations,” states Nicole Parr.
She is the lead researcher and part of the University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the Penryn Campus in Cornwall.
Research also revealed that the ruddy shelduck has a faster climb rate than even the bar-headed goose. This is the only other waterfowl known to be capable of flying so high. Previous research indicated that they are capable of reaching altitudes 7,290 meters high.
Ruddy shelducks seem to be flying lower than that, at 6,800 meters, but the team considers that the species should continue being studied. Current observations revealed that they constantly fly at altitudes of more than 5,000 meters. Further studies might help tell if they can go even higher than the bar-headed geese or at least at the same level.
Current research findings are available in a paper in the Journal of Avian Biology.
Image Source: Wikimedia
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