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Concept: Bird flight


Archaeopteryx is an iconic fossil taxon with feathered wings from the Late Jurassic of Germany that occupies a crucial position for understanding the early evolution of avian flight. After over 150 years of study, its mosaic anatomy unifying characters of both non-flying dinosaurs and flying birds has remained challenging to interpret in a locomotory context. Here, we compare new data from three Archaeopteryx specimens obtained through phase-contrast synchrotron microtomography to a representative sample of archosaurs employing a diverse array of locomotory strategies. Our analyses reveal that the architecture of Archaeopteryx’s wing bones consistently exhibits a combination of cross-sectional geometric properties uniquely shared with volant birds, particularly those occasionally utilising short-distance flapping. We therefore interpret that Archaeopteryx actively employed wing flapping to take to the air through a more anterodorsally posteroventrally oriented flight stroke than used by modern birds. This unexpected outcome implies that avian powered flight must have originated before the latest Jurassic.

Concepts: Bird flight, Geometry, Flight, Jurassic, Archaeopteryx, Wing, Dinosaur, Bird


It is essential for birds to be agile and aware of their immediate environment, especially when flying through dense foliage. To investigate the type of visual signals and strategies used by birds while negotiating cluttered environments, we presented budgerigars with vertically oriented apertures of different widths. We find that, when flying through narrow apertures, birds execute their maneuvers in an anticipatory fashion, with wing closures, if necessary, occurring well in advance of the aperture. When passing through an aperture that is narrower than the wingspan, the birds close their wings at a specific, constant distance before the aperture, which is independent of aperture width. In these cases, the birds also fly significantly higher, possibly pre-compensating for the drop in altitude. The speed of approach is largely constant, and independent of the width of the aperture. The constancy of the approach speed suggests a simple means by which optic flow can be used to gauge the distance and width of the aperture, and guide wing closure.

Concepts: Optics, Aperture, Flight, Flying and gliding animals, Denny Laine, Bird flight, Bird, Wing


Dragonfly has excellent flight performance and maneuverability due to the complex vein structure of wing. In this research, nodus as an important structural element of the dragonfly wing is investigated through an experimental visualization approach. Three vein structures were fabricated as, open-nodus structure, closed-nodus structure (with a flex-limiter) and rigid wing. The samples were conducted in a wind tunnel with a high speed camera to visualize the deformation of wing structure in order to study the function of nodus structured wing in gliding flight. According to the experimental results, nodus has a great influence on the flexibility of the wing structure. Moreover, the closed-nodus wing (with a flex-limiter) enables the vein structure to be flexible without losing the strength and rigidity of the joint. These findings enhance the knowledge of insect-inspired nodus structured wing and facilitate the application of Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) in gliding flight.

Concepts: Bird flight, System, Wing, Aerodynamics, Aircraft, Flying and gliding animals, Structure, Flight


Despite a wealth of fossils of Mesozoic birds revealing evidence of plumage and other soft-tissue structures, the epidermal and dermal anatomy of their wing’s patagia remain largely unknown. We describe a distal forelimb of an enantiornithine bird from the Lower Cretaceous limestones of Las Hoyas, Spain, which reveals the overall morphology of the integument of the wing and other connective structures associated with the insertion of flight feathers. The integumentary anatomy, and myological and arthrological organization of the new fossil is remarkably similar to that of modern birds, in which a system of small muscles, tendons and ligaments attaches to the follicles of the remigial feathers and maintains the functional integrity of the wing during flight. The new fossil documents the oldest known occurrence of connective tissues in association with the flight feathers of birds. Furthermore, the presence of an essentially modern connective arrangement in the wing of enantiornithines supports the interpretation of these primitive birds as competent fliers.

Concepts: Dinosaur, Feather, Bird anatomy, Evolution, Flight feather, Bird flight, Wing, Bird


Some of the greatest transformations in vertebrate history involve developmental and evolutionary origins of avian flight. Flight is the most power-demanding mode of locomotion, and volant adult birds have many anatomical features that presumably help meet these demands. However, juvenile birds, like the first winged dinosaurs, lack many hallmarks of advanced flight capacity. Instead of large wings they have small “protowings”, and instead of robust, interlocking forelimb skeletons their limbs are more gracile and their joints less constrained. Such traits are often thought to preclude extinct theropods from powered flight, yet young birds with similarly rudimentary anatomies flap-run up slopes and even briefly fly, thereby challenging longstanding ideas on skeletal and feather function in the theropod-avian lineage. Though skeletons and feathers are the common link between extinct and extant theropods and figure prominently in discussions on flight performance (extant birds) and flight origins (extinct theropods), skeletal inter-workings are hidden from view and their functional relationship with aerodynamically active wings is not known. For the first time, we use X-ray Reconstruction of Moving Morphology to visualize skeletal movement in developing birds, and explore how development of the avian flight apparatus corresponds with ontogenetic trajectories in skeletal kinematics, aerodynamic performance, and the locomotor transition from pre-flight flapping behaviors to full flight capacity. Our findings reveal that developing chukars (Alectoris chukar) with rudimentary flight apparatuses acquire an “avian” flight stroke early in ontogeny, initially by using their wings and legs cooperatively and, as they acquire flight capacity, counteracting ontogenetic increases in aerodynamic output with greater skeletal channelization. In conjunction with previous work, juvenile birds thereby demonstrate that the initial function of developing wings is to enhance leg performance, and that aerodynamically active, flapping wings might better be viewed as adaptations or exaptations for enhancing leg performance.

Concepts: Locomotion, Bird flight, Flight, Chukar Partridge, Aerodynamics, Dinosaur, Wing, Bird


Information about self-motion and obstacles in the environment is encoded by optic flow, the movement of images on the eye. Decades of research have revealed that flying insects control speed, altitude, and trajectory by a simple strategy of maintaining or balancing the translational velocity of images on the eyes, known as pattern velocity. It has been proposed that birds may use a similar algorithm but this hypothesis has not been tested directly. We examined the influence of pattern velocity on avian flight by manipulating the motion of patterns on the walls of a tunnel traversed by Anna’s hummingbirds. Contrary to prediction, we found that lateral course control is not based on regulating nasal-to-temporal pattern velocity. Instead, birds closely monitored feature height in the vertical axis, and steered away from taller features even in the absence of nasal-to-temporal pattern velocity cues. For vertical course control, we observed that birds adjusted their flight altitude in response to upward motion of the horizontal plane, which simulates vertical descent. Collectively, our results suggest that birds avoid collisions using visual cues in the vertical axis. Specifically, we propose that birds monitor the vertical extent of features in the lateral visual field to assess distances to the side, and vertical pattern velocity to avoid collisions with the ground. These distinct strategies may derive from greater need to avoid collisions in birds, compared with small insects.

Concepts: Horizontal plane, Optic nerve, Insect, Insect flight, Flight, Scientific method, Bird flight, Flying and gliding animals


Hummingbirds (Trochilidae) are widely known for their insect-like flight strokes characterized by high wing beat frequency, small muscle strains and a highly supinated wing orientation during upstroke that allows for lift production in both halves of the stroke cycle. Here, we show that hummingbirds achieve these functional traits within the limits imposed by a vertebrate endoskeleton and muscle physiology by accentuating a wing inversion mechanism found in other birds and using long-axis rotational movement of the humerus. In hummingbirds, long-axis rotation of the humerus creates additional wing translational movement, supplementing that produced by the humeral elevation and depression movements of a typical avian flight stroke. This adaptation increases the wing-to-muscle-transmission ratio, and is emblematic of a widespread scaling trend among flying animals whereby wing-to-muscle-transmission ratio varies inversely with mass, allowing animals of vastly different sizes to accommodate aerodynamic, biomechanical and physiological constraints on muscle-powered flapping flight.

Concepts: Hummingbird, Aerodynamics, Rotation, Flight, Bird flight, Flying and gliding animals, Wing, Bird


Globally, billions of flying animals undergo seasonal migrations, many of which occur at night. The temporal and spatial scales at which migrations occur and our inability to directly observe these nocturnal movements makes monitoring and characterizing this critical period in migratory animals' life cycles difficult. Remote sensing, therefore, has played an important role in our understanding of large-scale nocturnal bird migrations. Weather surveillance radar networks in Europe and North America have great potential for long-term low-cost monitoring of bird migration at scales that have previously been impossible to achieve. Such long-term monitoring, however, poses a number of challenges for the ornithological and ecological communities: how does one take advantage of this vast data resource, integrate information across multiple sensors and large spatial and temporal scales, and visually represent the data for interpretation and dissemination, considering the dynamic nature of migration? We assembled an interdisciplinary team of ecologists, meteorologists, computer scientists, and graphic designers to develop two different flow visualizations, which are interactive and open source, in order to create novel representations of broad-front nocturnal bird migration to address a primary impediment to long-term, large-scale nocturnal migration monitoring. We have applied these visualization techniques to mass bird migration events recorded by two different weather surveillance radar networks covering regions in Europe and North America. These applications show the flexibility and portability of such an approach. The visualizations provide an intuitive representation of the scale and dynamics of these complex systems, are easily accessible for a broad interest group, and are biologically insightful. Additionally, they facilitate fundamental ecological research, conservation, mitigation of human-wildlife conflicts, improvement of meteorological products, and public outreach, education, and engagement.

Concepts: Cuckoo, Weather, Ornithology, Ecology, Bird flight, Human migration, Bird, Bird migration


Almost all species of modern birds are capable of flight; the mechanical competency of their wings and the rigidity of their skeletal system evolved to enable this outstanding feat. One of the most interesting examples of structural adaptation in birds is the internal structure of their wing bones. In flying birds, bones need to be sufficiently strong and stiff to withstand forces during takeoff, flight, and landing, with a minimum of weight. The cross-sectional morphology and presence of reinforcing structures (struts and ridges) found within bird wing bones vary from species to species, depending on how the wings are utilized. It is shown that both morphology and internal features increases the resistance to flexure and torsion with a minimum weight penalty. Prototypes of reinforcing struts fabricated by 3D printing were tested in diametral compression and torsion to validate the concept. In compression, the ovalization decreased through the insertion of struts, while they had no effect on torsional resistance. An elastic model of a circular ring reinforced by horizontal and vertical struts is developed to explain the compressive stiffening response of the ring caused by differently oriented struts.

Concepts: Torsion, Reinforcement, Structure, Bird flight, Flying and gliding animals, Flight, Wing, Bird


Excessive or misdirected artificial light at night (ALAN) produces light pollution that influences several aspects of the biology and ecology of birds, including disruption of circadian rhythms and disorientation during flight. Many migrating birds traverse large expanses of land twice every year at night when ALAN illuminates the sky. Considering the extensive and increasing encroachment of light pollution around the world, we evaluated the association of the annual mean ALAN intensity over land within the geographic ranges of 298 nocturnally migrating bird species with five factors: phase of annual cycle, mean distance between breeding and non-breeding ranges, range size, global hemisphere of range, and IUCN category of conservation concern. Light pollution within geographic ranges was relatively greater during the migration season, for shorter-distance migrants, for species with smaller ranges, and for species in the western hemisphere. Our results suggest that migratory birds may be subject to the effects of light pollution particularly during migration, the most critical stage in their annual cycle. We hope these results will spur further research on how light pollution affects not only migrating birds, but also other highly mobile animals throughout their annual cycle.

Concepts: Seabird, Lighting, Bird flight, Light pollution, Cuckoo, Albatross, Bird migration, Bird