Takeoff and landing are critical phases in a flight. To better understand the functional importance of the kinematic adjustments birds use to execute these flight modes, we studied the wing and body movements of pigeons (Columba livia) during short-distance free-flights between two perches. The greatest accelerations were observed during the second wingbeat of takeoff. The wings were responsible for the majority of acceleration during takeoff and landing, with the legs contributing only one-quarter of the acceleration. Parameters relating to aerodynamic power output such as downstroke amplitude, wingbeat frequency and downstroke velocity were all greatest during takeoff flight and decreased with each successive takeoff wingbeat. This pattern indicates that downstroke velocity must be greater for accelerating flight to increase the amount of air accelerated by the wings. Pigeons used multiple mechanisms to adjust thrust and drag to accelerate during takeoff and decelerate during landing. Body angle, tail angle and wing plane angles all shifted from more horizontal orientations during takeoff to near-vertical orientations during landing, thereby reducing drag during takeoff and increasing drag during landing. The stroke plane was tilted steeply downward throughout takeoff (increasing from -60+/-5 deg. to -47+/-1 deg.), supporting our hypothesis that a downward-tilted stroke plane pushes more air rearward to accelerate the bird forward. Similarly, the stroke plane tilted upward during landing (increasing from -1+/-2 deg. to 17+/-7 deg.), implying that an upward-tilted stroke plane pushes more air forward to slow the bird down. Rotations of the stroke plane, wing planes and tail were all strongly correlated with rotation of the body angle, suggesting that pigeons are able to redirect aerodynamic force and shift between flight modes through modulation of body angle alone.
Berg, Angela MBiewener, Andrew AengResearch Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.England2010/05/04 06:00J Exp Biol. 2010 May;213(Pt 10):1651-8. doi: 10.1242/jeb.038109.