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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. (Published in PloS One 11, November 2010)
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
|Contact: Dr. Martin Wikelski|