Biomechanics of bird flight

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

Power output is a unifying theme for bird flight and considerable progress has been accomplished recently in measuring muscular, metabolic and aerodynamic power in birds. The primary flight muscles of birds, the pectoralis and supracoracoideus, are designed for work and power output, with large stress (force per unit cross-sectional area) and strain (relative length change) per contraction. U-shaped curves describe how mechanical power output varies with flight speed, but the specific shapes and characteristic speeds of these curves differ according to morphology and flight style. New measures of induced, profile and parasite power should help to update existing mathematical models of flight. In turn, these improved models may serve to test behavioral and ecological processes. Unlike terrestrial locomotion that is generally characterized by discrete gaits, changes in wing kinematics and aerodynamics across flight speeds are gradual. Take-off flight performance scales with body size, but fully revealing the mechanisms responsible for this pattern awaits new study. Intermittent flight appears to reduce the power cost for flight, as some species flap-glide at slow speeds and flap-bound at fast speeds. It is vital to test the metabolic costs of intermittent flight to understand why some birds use intermittent bounds during slow flight. Maneuvering and stability are critical for flying birds, and design for maneuvering may impinge upon other aspects of flight performance. The tail contributes to lift and drag; it is also integral to maneuvering and stability. Recent studies have revealed that maneuvers are typically initiated during downstroke and involve bilateral asymmetry of force production in the pectoralis. Future study of maneuvering and stability should measure inertial and aerodynamic forces. It is critical for continued progress into the biomechanics of bird flight that experimental designs are developed in an ecological and evolutionary context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3135-3146
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Volume210
Issue number18
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2007

Keywords

  • Intermittent
  • Kinematic
  • Maneuver
  • Muscle
  • Power
  • Stability
  • Take-off
  • Wake
  • Wing
  • Work

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