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Birds 'flap run' instead if flying over obstacles to save energy
Date:6/22/2011

ine, the team could barely see any electrical activity in the flight muscle. 'We thought, "It's flapping, there must be activity," so we zoomed in on the computer screen and there was the signal, it was just over an order of magnitude smaller in amplitude,' recalls Jackson. The birds seemed to be using hardly any power to flap their wings as they ran up the slopes. And when the trio calculated the power produced by the flapping flight muscle, it was less than 10% of the power required for the bird to fly at the same angle. The flap running birds were making significant power savings in their flight muscles by flap running up slopes. The team also realised that the adults only increased their flight muscle power output by small increments as the slope angle increased.

'The basic story comes out that once you can run up a nearly vertical substrate your muscle and wings are ready to control your descent. They are ready even to fly on the level,' says Jackson. So, by building up slowly from flap running up shallow inclines to ascending steeper slopes, flap running could be an essential stage in chicks learning to fly, allowing them to build up their muscles gradually before the first take off. Jackson also adds that flap running could have been a key stage in the evolution of flight.

'At some point birds came from bipedal dinosaurs with small forelimbs that evolved into small wings,' explains Jackson. Knowing that archaeopteryx's flight muscles were probably too small to power flight, he suggests that they may have been large enough to help it flap run up steep obstacles. So, just as flap running appears to be a key stage in learning to fly, it could also have been a major breakthrough in the evolution of flight.


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Contact: Kathryn Knight
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Source:Eurekalert

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