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The 10 Highest Flying Birds in the World

the highest flying birds in the world
The Ruppells griffon vulture holds the crown for being the highest flying bird in the world.

The average commercial aircraft flies between (31,000 – 38,000 ft), an incredible 5.9 – 7.2 miles high. Even more amazingly, some birds can reach the same altitude in this article is the complete list of the top ten highest-flying birds in the world.

Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture (Gyps rueppelli) 11,300 m (37,000 ft)

Ruppells griffon vulture
Ruppells griffon vulture

The ruppell’s griffon vulture is the highest-flying bird in the world, able to fly as high as 11,300 m (37,000 ft). This height was recorded because an unlucky bird was sucked into an aeroplane’s engine when flying over Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.

They can fly at this height due to having a specially adapted protein in their red blood cells that transports oxygen from their lungs to their body tissue. This ability allows them to breathe easily at high altitudes, whereas humans would pass out.

They spend their day soaring high above the African plains, looking for carrion. Once they have located a dead animal, they will swoop down and feast, consuming every part of the carcass until they are nearly too heavy to fly. They use their strong beak to rip apart flesh and have backward pointing spikes on their tongue, which are perfect for removing meat from the bone.

Common Crane (Grus grus) 10,000 m (33,000 ft)

common crane
Common crane in flight.

The common crane can reach 10,000 m (33,000 ft) when it migrates over the Himalayas. They breed in Europe and Asia and migrate to Northern Africa and Southern Asia for the winter.

Every two years, the crane undergoes a complete moult of all their feathers which usually lasts six weeks. During this time, they remain flightless. Once fully feathered, they migrate.

During the breeding season, the male and female cranes will perform a dance that involves jumping, bowing, and flapping their wings. This dance is thought to strengthen the bond between the pair and is an integral part of the mating process.

Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus) 8,800 m  (29,000 ft)

bar headed goose
Bar headed goose stretching its wings.

The bar-headed goose gets its name from the two black bars that wrap around the back of its head. They are the highest flying member of the geese family as they can migrate over the Himalayas, which are 8,849 m (29,000 ft) tall and where there is little oxygen.

They can do this because they have bigger lungs and a greater density of capillaries that can supply their muscles with oxygen. They live on lakes in the mountains of central Asia in the summer, feeding on grass. In the winter, they migrate south to India, where they can travel 1,000 miles in a single day.

Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus) 8,200 m (27,000 ft)

whooper swans
Adult and juvenile whooper swans.

Whooper swans are known to migrate in flocks of up to 100 birds and cover one of the longest sea-crossing migrations. They travel up to 870 miles (1,400 km) between the UK, Ireland, and Iceland and reach an altitude of 8,200 m (27,000 ft) when flying.

The whooping swan, pronounced “hooper”, gets its name from its whooping calls. They are wetland birds known for their long necks and black and yellow beaks. They mainly eat aquatic plants, grass and grain but will also land in any fields they fly over if they see any leftover crops like potatoes.

Alpine Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus) 8,000 m (26,500 ft)

Alpine chough eating in the Alps in Austria.
Alpine chough eating in the Alps in Austria.

The alpine chough is a non-migratory bird and spends its life living in the mountains of Asia, Europe and Northern Africa. They can reach a height of 8,000 m (26,500 ft) when flying. As they live high in the mountains, they are one the highest nesting birds in the world.

They are a member of the crow family and have glossy black feathers, red legs, a yellow beak and a distinctive call. They have broad and powerful wings and tails to help them manoeuvre atop the mountains. They mainly eat insects like ants, beetles, caterpillars and snails. They will also eat berries, seeds, small birds, reptiles, amphibians and carrion.

Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) 7,300 m (24,000 ft)

bearded vulture
Bearded vulture flying.

The bearded vulture is another non-migratory bird that lives in the mountains of Asia, Southern Europe and some parts of Africa. The highest population of birds can be found living high in the Pyrenees mountains. The bearded vulture gets its name from the black bristles underneath its chin.

Most of the bearded vulture’s diet consists of animal bones making up 85-90%. The bearded vulture scavenges the bones from dead ibex, chamois, and sheep. They swallow small bones whole. With larger bones, they have to drop them from a great height while flying to break them into smaller pieces, making them easier to eat. They can reach an elevation of 7,300 m (24,000 ft).

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 6,400 m (21,000 ft)

male and female mallard taking off
You can see the different plumage between the male and female mallards.

The mallard is the smallest bird on this list, but it can still fly at an impressive height of 6,400 m (21,000 ft). They are commonly found in wetlands, like marshes, ponds, and lakes, where they feed on aquatic plants, seeds, insects, small fish and frogs.

Males and females are easy to tell apart because of the differences in plumage. The male mallard has an iridescent green head, white collar, brown breast, greyish body, and bright yellow bill, while the female mallard has a mottled brown plumage with an orange-and-brown bill.

Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) 6,000 m (20,000 ft)

bar tailed godwit
A bar-tailed godwit calls for its mate next to a pond.

Bar-tailed godwits are migratory birds that breed in northern Asia, Scandinavia, and Alaska. During the winter, they migrate south as far as Australia. During their long migratory flights, they reach their highest altitude of 6,000 m (20,000 ft). They are wading birds that live on mudflats, beaches, and mangroves.

In the United States, a team of scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, the Max Planck Institute, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a study to track the migration of juvenile bar-tailed godwits.

One of their tagged juveniles, a four-month-old, set a new world record by completing a non-stop 11-day migration of 8,425 miles from Alaska to Tasmania, Australia. This journey represents the longest documented non-stop flight by any bird!

White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) 4,900 m (16,000 ft)

white stork flying
White stork flying over head.

The white stork breeds across Europe and Asia, with the most significant populations in Spain, Poland and the Baltic region. They winter in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Mali, Niger, or Chad. They have distinctive white plumage with black wings, long red legs, and long pointed red beaks.

The white stork is an important bird in many cultures and symbolises good luck and fertility. In some countries, having a white stork nest on your rooftop is believed to bring good luck and prosperity to the household. In Portugal, the white stork is considered the mascot of the Algarve.

Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) 4,600 m (15,000 ft)

Andean condor
Andean condor flying over Colca Canyon.

The Andean condor is known for its ability to fly at high altitudes, with recorded flights of up to 15,000 feet. It is a scavenger bird that feeds on carrion and can travel long distances in search of food.

The Andean Condor is found in the Andes Mountains of South America, where it is considered a national symbol of several countries, including Chile, Argentina, Colombia, and Ecuador. The bird is also listed as a near-threatened species due to habitat loss and hunting.

Summary: The 10 Highest Flying Birds in the World

1Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture11,300 m (37,000 ft)
2Common Crane10,000 m (33,000 ft)
3Bar-headed Goose8,800 m  (29,000 ft)
4Whooper Swan8,200 m (27,000 ft)
5Alpine Chough8,000 m (26,500 ft)
6Bearded Vulture7,300 m (24,000 ft)
7Mallard6,400 m (21,000 ft)
8Bar-tailed Godwit6,000 m (20,000 ft)
9White Stork4,900 m (16,000 ft)
10Andean Condor4,600 m (15,000 ft)

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