Bird Rests Both Brain Hemispheres During Flight

Great frigatebirds can sleep while flying, researchers report.

Aug 8, 2016
Tracy Vence

WIKIMEDIA, CHARLESJSHARPWhile flying over the ocean, great frigatebirds (Fregata minor) “can sleep with either one hemisphere at a time or both hemispheres simultaneously,” a team led by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany reported in Nature Communications last week (August 3). With electroencephalogram recordings, the team is the first to show that these birds can sleep during flight.

“Most people assumed that birds sleep unihemispherically in flight,” study coauthor Niels Rattenborg of the Max Planck wrote in an email to The Christian Science Monitor. “However, the frigatebirds also sometimes slept with both halves of the brain at the same time.”

The birds slept 10 times more on land than when on the wing, the researchers reported. As The Guardian put it, “their brief periods of in-flight sleep may serve as power naps that counter the effects of sleep deprivation during long distance flight.”