Pigeons produce aerodynamic torques through changes in wing trajectory during low speed aerial turns


Ros IG, Badger MA, Pierson AN, Bassman LC, Biewener AA. Pigeons produce aerodynamic torques through changes in wing trajectory during low speed aerial turns. J Exp Biol. 2015;218 :480-90.

Date Published:

Feb 1


The complexity of low speed maneuvering flight is apparent from the combination of two critical aspects of this behavior: high power and precise control. To understand how such control is achieved, we examined the underlying kinematics and resulting aerodynamic mechanisms of low speed turning flight in the pigeon (Columba livia). Three birds were trained to perform 90 deg level turns in a stereotypical fashion and detailed three-dimensional (3D) kinematics were recorded at high speeds. Applying the angular momentum principle, we used mechanical modeling based on time-varying 3D inertia properties of individual sections of the pigeon's body to separate angular accelerations of the torso based on aerodynamics from those based on inertial effects. Directly measured angular accelerations of the torso were predicted by aerodynamic torques, justifying inferences of aerodynamic torque generation based on inside wing versus outside wing kinematics. Surprisingly, contralateral asymmetries in wing speed did not appear to underlie the 90 deg aerial turns, nor did contralateral differences in wing area, angle of attack, wingbeat amplitude or timing. Instead, torso angular accelerations into the turn were associated with the outside wing sweeping more anteriorly compared with a more laterally directed inside wing. In addition to moving through a relatively more retracted path, the inside wing was also more strongly pronated about its long axis compared with the outside wing, offsetting any difference in aerodynamic angle of attack that might arise from the observed asymmetry in wing trajectories. Therefore, to generate roll and pitch torques into the turn, pigeons simply reorient their wing trajectories toward the desired flight direction. As a result, by acting above the center of mass, the net aerodynamic force produced by the wings is directed inward, generating the necessary torques for turning.


Ros, Ivo GBadger, Marc APierson, Alyssa NBassman, Lori CBiewener, Andrew AengEngland2014/12/03 06:00J Exp Biol. 2015 Feb 1;218(Pt 3):480-90. doi: 10.1242/jeb.104141. Epub 2014 Dec 1.

Last updated on 03/19/2015