Effects of body size on take-off flight performance in the phasianidae (AVES)

B. W. Tobalske, K. P. Dial

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


To evaluate the mechanisms responsible for relationships between body mass and maximum take-off performance in birds, we studied four species in the Phasianidae: northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), chukar (Alectoris chukar), ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) and wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). These species vary in body mass from 0.2 to 5.3 kg, and they use flight almost solely to escape predators. During take-off, all the species used a similar wingbeat style that appeared to be a vortex-ring gait with a tip reversal during the upstroke. The tip reversal is unusual for birds with rounded wings; it may offer an aerodynamic advantage during rapid acceleration. Flight anatomy generally scaled geometrically, except for average wing chord and wing area, which increased more than expected as body mass (m) increased. Pectoralis strain varied from 19.1 to 35.2 % and scaled in proportion to m0.23. This positive scaling is not consistent with the widely held assumption that muscle strain is independent of body mass among geometrically similar species. The anatomy of the species precluded measurements of in vivo pectoralis force using the strain-gauge technique that has been employed successfully in other bird species, so we could not directly test in vivo pectoralis force-velocity relationships. However, whole-body kinematics revealed that take-off power (P(ta)), the excess power available for climbing and accelerating in flight, scaled in proportion to m0.75 and that pectoralis mass-specific P(ta) decreased in proportion to m-0.26 and was directly proportional to wingbeat frequency. These trends suggest that mass-specific pectoralis work did not vary with body mass and that pectoralis stress and strain were inversely proportional, as expected from classical force-velocity models for skeletal muscle. Our observations of P(ta) were consistent with evidence from other species engaged in escape flight and, therefore, appear to contradict evidence from studies of take-off or hovering with an added payload.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3319-3332
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number21
StatePublished - 2000


  • Elec tromyography
  • Flight
  • Muscle
  • Pectoralis
  • Phasianidae
  • Power
  • Scaling
  • Sonomicrometry
  • Strain


Dive into the research topics of 'Effects of body size on take-off flight performance in the phasianidae (AVES)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this