Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

The wing kinematics of birds vary systematically with body size, but we still, after several decades of research, lack a clear mechanistic understanding of the aerodynamic selection pressures that shape them. Swimming and flying animals have recently been shown to cruise at Strouhal numbers (St) corresponding to a regime of vortex growth and shedding in which the propulsive efficiency of flapping foils peaks (St approximately fA/U, where f is wingbeat frequency, U is cruising speed and A approximately bsin(theta/2) is stroke amplitude, in which b is wingspan and theta is stroke angle). We show that St is a simple and accurate predictor of wingbeat frequency in birds. The Strouhal numbers of cruising birds have converged on the lower end of the range 0.2 < St < 0.4 associated with high propulsive efficiency. Stroke angle scales as theta approximately 67b-0.24, so wingbeat frequency can be predicted as f approximately St.U/bsin(33.5b-0.24), with St0.21 and St0.25 for direct and intermittent fliers, respectively. This simple aerodynamic model predicts wingbeat frequency better than any other relationship proposed to date, explaining 90% of the observed variance in a sample of 60 bird species. Avian wing kinematics therefore appear to have been tuned by natural selection for high aerodynamic efficiency: physical and physiological constraints upon wing kinematics must be reconsidered in this light.

Original publication

DOI

10.1098/rspb.2004.2838

Type

Journal article

Journal

Proc Biol Sci

Publication Date

07/10/2004

Volume

271

Pages

2071 - 2076

Keywords

Animals, Biomechanical Phenomena, Birds, Flight, Animal, Models, Biological, Wings, Animal