The avian world is diverse, encompassing numerous species with varying degrees of flying prowess. While some birds struggle to achieve even a minimal lift-off, others exhibit mastery over the skies. Among them, several species have perfected the skill of flight, allowing them to ascend to remarkable altitudes. Below is the List of the 12 highest-flying birds on our planet.
List of Top 12 Highest Flying Birds
1. Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture – Soaring to the Stars at 37,000 Feet
- Scientific Name: Gyps rueppelli
- Lifespan: Up to 30 – 40 years
- Size: Approximately 93 – 122 cm (37 – 48 inches) in length, with a wingspan of about 230 – 280 cm (91 – 110 inches)
- Weight: Around 7 – 12 kg
- Origin: Sub-Saharan Africa
With a wingspan stretching up to an impressive 8 feet (2.5 meters), the Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture commands the title of the world’s highest flying bird. Scaling heights that reach a staggering 37,000 feet, this magnificent creature graces the skies like no other. Its physique features a light brown body that contrasts elegantly with its white head and neck, creating a regal appearance.
Distinguishing itself from other vulture species, the Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture showcases a curved, elongated beak and a bare head, sometimes bearing a pinkish hue. Indigenous to the African continent and the Arabian Peninsula, this vulture dominates the skies above mountains and deserts. Named after the renowned German explorer and naturalist Eduard Ruppell, who documented its existence in the 19th century, this bird is a living testament to the wonders of nature.
The Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture spends much of its time soaring at great heights, engaged in the quest for sustenance. Its diet primarily comprises the remains of deceased animals, though it isn’t averse to seizing live prey if the opportunity arises. Gifted with exceptional eyesight, it scans vast distances to spot potential meals.
This vulture species plays an indispensable role in its ecosystem by maintaining population levels of smaller creatures through scavenging. Tragically, the Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture faces perilous times. Habitat loss, poisoning, and hunting are among the threats driving its population decline. The ongoing struggle to secure its survival stands as a testament to the delicate balance of nature and humanity’s responsibility to protect it.
2. Whooping Crane – Graceful Heights of 33,000 Feet
- Scientific name: Grus americana
- Lifespan: 22 to 30 years
- Size: 5 feet tall
- Native to: Canada and America
The Whooping crane, a majestic bird of prey, follows closely behind the Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture with its soaring abilities. With a wingspan spanning 1.65 to 2.30 meters (5 feet 5 inches to 7 feet 7 inches), the crane takes flight to altitudes of 33,000 feet. Renowned for their graceful flight and the elongated elegance of their necks, these avian wonders are symbols of both beauty and natural prowess.
Cranes find their abode in wetland habitats scattered across the globe. Their populations remain relatively stable, yet these remarkable birds encounter threats like habitat loss and hunting. It’s a delicate balance between preserving their homes and ensuring their safety.
Cranes demonstrate an omnivorous diet, enjoying a blend of plants and animals. From berries to insects, fish to small mammals, their eclectic palate underscores their adaptability. Their lengthy necks and legs grant them access to sustenance that other creatures might miss.
3. Bar-headed Goose – The Heights of Everest at 29,000 Feet
- Scientific Name: Anser indicus
- Lifespan: Up to 20 years
- Size: Approximately 71 cm (28 inches) in length
- Weight: Around 2.5 – 3.2 kg
- Origin: Central Asia
The bar-headed goose, a true marvel of nature, conquers altitudes soaring up to 29,000 feet, a feat that surpasses the heights of Mount Everest. These exceptional aviators possess a remarkable adaptation: their hemoglobin binds more oxygen than their avian counterparts, allowing them to navigate the skies for extended periods without fatigue. Witnessing a bar-headed goose effortlessly gliding at such heights is a testament to nature’s ingenuity.
The bar-headed goose captures attention not only with its aerial prowess but also with its striking appearance. Its body boasts a sleek black hue adorned with white bars cascading across its neck. Topping it off, their heads shimmer with a gentle shade of light blue. A mere glimpse of these birds in person leaves an indelible mark on the observer.
4. Whooper Swan – Majestic Heights of 27,000 Feet
- Scientific Name: Cygnus cygnus
- Lifespan: Up to 20 – 30 years
- Size: Length of about 140 – 165 cm (55 – 65 inches), with a wingspan of approximately 205 – 235 cm (81 – 93 inches)
- Weight: Approximately 7 – 15 kg
- Origin: Northern parts of Europe and Asia
The title of the largest waterfowl belongs to the whooper swan. With an impressive wingspan of up to 3.1 meters (10 feet) and a weight that can reach 15 kilograms (33 pounds), these swans exhibit both grace and might. Their powerful wings propel them to altitudes as high as 27,000 feet, cementing their status as high-flying icons.
The whooper swan’s allure lies in its elegance, featuring an elongated neck and legs that epitomize gracefulness. This regal avian species is protected across multiple countries, their populations gradually regaining strength.
The calls of the whooper swan are a symphony of loud, musical trumpeting honks. Living up to two to three decades in the wild, these creatures impart their enchanting presence through both sight and sound.
As these birds gracefully conquer the heights, they embody the mysteries and marvels of the avian realm, revealing a world of flight that captivates our imagination and sparks our sense of wonder.
5. Alpine Chough – Defying Altitude Challenges at 26,500 Feet
- Scientific name: Pyrrhocorax graculus
- Lifespan: Up to 15-20 years
- Size: 35-39 centimeters (14-15 inches) in length.
- Weight: Typically weighs around 200-300 grams (7-10 ounces).
- Origin: Found in mountainous regions of Europe, particularly in alpine and rocky habitats
In the realm of avian toughness, the alpine chough stands out as a testament to endurance. This member of the crow family finds its home in the lofty reaches of mountainous regions, boldly establishing nests on ledges and within crevices, even scaling altitudes of 26,500 feet. The alpine chough’s tenacity is awe-inspiring, as it thrives in environments that would deter many other creatures.
For the alpine chough, survival hinges on its ingenious adaptations. Its feathers are meticulously designed to insulate it against the harsh cold, enabling it to withstand the rigors of high-altitude living. A specialized curved beak empowers the chough to scoop up snow for hydration, a feat that showcases nature’s exquisite engineering.
Among the alpine chough’s impressive attributes, its high-flying prowess stands tall. Thanks to its robust wings, this bird defies the limits of elevation, ascending above cloud levels and even glimpsing the summit of Mount Everest, a vantage point few creatures can claim. Such daring feats highlight the alpine chough’s mastery of the skies.
6. Bearded Vulture – Scaling Heights to 24,000 Feet
- Scientific name: Gypaetus barbatus
- Lifespan: About 25-45 years
- Size: Medium-sized vulture; approximately 3.3 to 4.6 feet (100 to 140 cm) in wingspan
- Origin: Found in mountainous regions of Europe, Asia, and Africa
The bearded vulture emerges as a true aerial champion, boasting altitudes of up to 24,000 feet – heights that rival the famed Mount Everest. Its massive size complements its lofty achievements, with weights reaching up to 20 pounds. With a wingspan stretching up to 10 feet, this vulture paints a striking silhouette against the skies.
Adorned in black and white, the bearded vulture’s plumage earns it its regal appearance. Long, curved beaks and tufts of feathers resembling a beard bestow this creature with an artistic moniker. Found across the mountains of Europe, Asia, and Africa, it claims cliffs as its nesting sites.
A diet that includes bones sets the bearded vulture apart. It drops bones from great heights, employing gravity to crack them open and expose the coveted marrow within. This avian predator’s ingenious methods for securing sustenance underline its adaptability.
7. Mallard – Flyies at 21,000 Feet
- Scientific Name: Anas platyrhynchos
- Lifespan: 5 – 10 years
- Size: Approximately 50 – 65 cm (20 – 26 inches) in length, with a wingspan of around 81 – 98 cm (32 – 39 inches)
- Weight: Around 0.7 – 1.4 kg
- Origin: North America, Europe, Asia
The mallard, despite its design not suited for long-distance flights, demonstrates a remarkable capacity for soaring altitudes of up to 21,000 feet. With its relatively short wings and robust body, it embraces the power of updrafts and thermals to traverse the skies with finesse.
High-altitude flight equips the mallard with a survival strategy that spans diverse habitats. This ability enables the avoidance of predators and access to untapped food sources. Migration patterns are closely intertwined with meteorological dynamics, allowing the mallard to journey great distances with minimal energy expenditure.
8. Bar-tailed Godwit – 20,000 Feet
- Scientific Name: Limosa lapponica
- Lifespan: Up to 20 – 30 years
- Size: Length of about 37 – 41 cm (15 – 16 inches), with a wingspan of approximately 70 – 80 cm (28 – 31 inches)
- Weight: Approximately 180 – 400 g
- Origin: Arctic regions and northern temperate zones
The bar-tailed godwit achieves unparalleled heights in migration, soaring up to 20,000 feet – a remarkable four-mile elevation. Satellite tracking captured this record-breaking feat during an awe-inspiring nonstop journey from Alaska to New Zealand, spanning over 7,000 miles.
The bar-tailed godwit’s ascent to these altitudes is believed to be a strategic blend of utilizing thermal currents and skillful flapping. This remarkable capability isn’t a one-time wonder; these birds regularly navigate the skies at lofty altitudes, a testament to their extraordinary adaptability.
9. White Stork – 16,000 Feet
- Scientific name: Ciconia ciconia
- Lifespan: 22 years
- Size: 95 to 110 centimeters
- Native to: across Europe and Asia and winters south to South Africa
- Beak length on average is 6-8 inches (15-20 cm).
The white stork, the ninth-highest flyer on our list, reaches altitudes of 16,000 feet. This avian behemoth boasts an expansive wingspan of over 5 feet and can weigh up to 5 pounds, making its presence truly formidable.
With predominantly white plumage adorned by black wings, the white stork’s appearance is unmistakable. Its striking appearance graces open farmland, where it crafts nests of sticks on trees, buildings, or cliffs. A family-oriented species, both parents share responsibilities, from incubation to nurturing the young.
10. Andean Condor – Mastering Skies at 15,000 Feet
- Scientific name: Vultur gryphus
- Lifespan: Typically 50-70 years
- Size: One of the largest flying birds; around 45-50 inches (115-130 cm) in length, a wingspan of 9-10 feet (274-305 cm)
- Origin: Native to South America, specifically the Andes mountains.
The Andean condor’s dual claim to fame – the world’s largest flying bird by weight and wingspan – offers a wingspan that spans up to 10 feet and a weight of 33 pounds. Native to South America’s mountainous expanse, this majestic creature commands the heights at altitudes up to 15,000 feet.
Scavengers by nature, Andean condors trail vultures in search of sustenance. This species’ extraordinary lifespan in captivity, reaching up to 70 years, highlights its resilience and endurance.
11: Greater White Fronted Goose – Aerial Explorers at 20,000 Feet
- Scientific Name: Anser albifrons
- Lifespan: Up to 10 – 15 years
- Size: Approximately 64 – 81 cm (25 – 32 inches) in length, with a wingspan of about 130 – 165 cm (51 – 65 inches)
- Weight: Around 1.6 – 2.7 kg
- Origin: North America, Europe, Asia
The Greater White-fronted Goose is a migratory marvel, soaring at heights of up to 20,000 feet across the northern reaches of the globe. Its brownish-gray body and distinctive white band encircling its bill distinguish this medium-sized goose.
This goose is an omnivore, relishing a variety of plant and animal fare, from grasses and sedges to insects. Their airborne journey, guided by thermal currents and favorable winds, marks a testament to their adaptability and innate navigational skills.
12: Common Swift – Aerial Nomads at 21,300 Feet
- Scientific Name: Apus apus
- Lifespan: Up to 4 – 5 years
- Size: Approximately 16 – 17 cm (6 – 7 inches) in length, with a wingspan of about 38 – 40 cm (15 – 16 inches)
- Weight: Around 30 – 40 g
- Origin: Europe, Asia, Africa
The common swift, renowned for its aerial agility, defies gravity at altitudes of up to 6,500 meters (21,300 feet). Unveiling a captivating display of airborne expertise, these nomadic birds showcase their ability to sleep while in flight, perpetually exploring the realms above.
In the boundless expanse of the skies, these remarkable creatures challenge the limits of flight, offering insights into their extraordinary adaptations, survival strategies, and the mysteries that continue to captivate the human imagination.