Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Soaring is better than flapping for birds big and small

Date:
December 8, 2010
Source:
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Summary:
Small migrating birds save energy as they fly. Large birds, such as storks, save energy on the flight to their wintering grounds by soaring through the air on thermal currents. Until now, however, we knew nothing about the flight patterns of small migrating songbirds, such as whether they flap their wings or soar and whether these styles of flight allow them to save energy.

European bee-eater during flight.
Credit: Jorge Rodrigues

Small migrating birds save energy as they fly. Large birds, such as storks, save energy on the flight to their wintering grounds by soaring through the air on thermal currents. Until now, however, we knew nothing about the flight patterns of small migrating songbirds, such as whether they flap their wings or soar and whether these styles of flight allow them to save energy. Now, a team of scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, Ben-Gurion-University of the Negev, and Hebrew University of Jerusalem have tracked the movement of European bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) along the Africa-Eurasia migration flyway with the help of tiny radio transmitters.

Analysing measurements of heart rate, flight speed and flying style, they found out that these small birds also soars. Further, they found that the birds fly just as quickly when soaring as when flapping their wings, while using as little energy as it takes to sit in its nest.

When we think of birds gliding majestically through the sky without beating their wings, we imagine large species like storks or hawks searching silently for prey. The flight patterns of large birds have been well studied. Ornithologists know how quickly and how far they fly, and how often they flap or soar while in flight. However, much less is known about these patterns in smaller birds. Until recently, it was thought that small birds were not able to glide and save energy in the same way, due to their smaller musculature and wings. Gliding would reduce the flight speed, so it was assumed.

In a recently published study, scientists at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, along with Martin Wikelski, director of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, determined for the first time the energy use of small songbirds in the wild. The researchers attached tiny radio transmitters onto the backs of European bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) caught in Israel to record their wing beat frequency, heart rate and flight speed. In order to estimate the birds' energy use, they determined in the laboratory that the birds' heart rate increased with oxygen consumption, and therefore the heart rate measurements indicate the birds' energy use while flying.

"Analysing the data, we were surprised to see that bee-eaters often switch between soaring and flapping, and also that the frequency of heart beats while gliding was only as half what it was while flapping," says Martin Wikelski. "The birds needed the same amount of energy while soaring or gliding as they did when they were resting on a branch or in a nest." In contrast, previous studies with larger birds showed that energy use was at least 30 percent higher when the birds were gliding than when they were resting. Thus, soaring and gliding flight means a considerably higher savings of energy for small migrating birds than for larger species. In addition, the scientists did not find any loss of flight speed when birds were gliding.

The results of this study not only provide an answer to the question of whether small migrating birds can soar during their long journey, but also show that they travel just as fast while doing so and use less energy.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Nir Sapir, Martin Wikelski, Marshall D. McCue, Berry Pinshow, Ran Nathan. Flight modes in migrating European bee-eaters: Heart rate may indicate low metabolic rate during soaring and gliding. PLoS ONE, 2010; 5(11): e13956 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013956

Cite This Page:

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Soaring is better than flapping for birds big and small." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 December 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101208130046.htm>.
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. (2010, December 8). Soaring is better than flapping for birds big and small. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101208130046.htm
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Soaring is better than flapping for birds big and small." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101208130046.htm (accessed September 18, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Chimp Violence Study Renews Debate On Why They Kill

Chimp Violence Study Renews Debate On Why They Kill

Newsy (Sep. 17, 2014) The study weighs in on a debate over whether chimps are naturally violent or become that way due to human interference in the environment. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) The South's tobacco country is surviving, and even thriving in some cases, as demand overseas keeps growers in the fields of one of America's oldest cash crops. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Scientists say a female colossal squid weighing an estimated 350 kilograms (770 lbs) and thought to be only the second intact specimen ever found was carrying eggs when discovered in the Antarctic. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Squid experts in New Zealand thawed and examined an unusual catch on Tuesday: a colossal squid. It was captured in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea in December last year and has been frozen for eight months. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins