Wing kinematics of avian flight across speeds

Bret W. Tobalske, Tyson L. Hedrick, Andrew A. Biewener

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


To test whether wing shape affects the kinematics of wing motion during bird flight, we recorded high-speed video (250 Hz) of four species flying in a variable-speed wind tunnel. The birds flew at intervals of 2 m s-1 ranging from 1 m s-1 up to their respective maximum flight speed, which varied from 14 to 17 m s-1 depending on the species. Kinematic data obtained from two synchronized, high-speed video cameras were analyzed using 3D reconstruction. Three species with relatively pointed, high-aspect ratio wings changed wingbeat styles according to flight speed (budgerigar, Melopsittacus undulatus; cockatiel, Nymphicus hollandicus; ringed turtle dove, Streptopelia risoria). These species used a wing-tip reversal upstroke, characterized by supination of the distal wing at mid-upstroke, at equivalent airspeeds ≤ 7 to 9 m s-1. In faster flight, they used a swept-wing upstroke, without distal wing supination. At mid-upstroke at any speed, wingspan in these species was greater than wrist span. In contrast, at all steady flight speeds, the black-billed magpie Pica hudsonia with relatively broad, low-aspect ratio wings, used a flexed-wing, feathered upstroke in which wrist spans were equal to or greater than wingspans. Our results demonstrate that wing kinematics vary gradually as a function of flight speed, and that the patterns of variation are strongly influenced by external wing shape.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-184
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2003


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