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Physical limits of flight performance in the heaviest soaring bird
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Start page: 201907360
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Flight costs are predicted to vary with environmental conditions, and this should ultimately determine the movement capacity and distributions of large soaring birds. Despite this, little is known about how flight effort varies with environmental parameters. We deployed bio-logging devices on the wo...
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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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Flight costs are predicted to vary with environmental conditions, and this should ultimately determine the movement capacity and distributions of large soaring birds. Despite this, little is known about how flight effort varies with environmental parameters. We deployed bio-logging devices on the world’s heaviest soaring bird, the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus), to assess the extent to which these birds can operate without resorting to powered flight. Our records of individual wingbeats in >216 hours of flight show that condors can sustain soaring across a wide range of wind and thermal conditions, only flapping for 1 % of their flight time. This is amongst the very lowest estimated movement costs in vertebrates. One bird even flew for > 5 hours without flapping, covering ~ 172 km. Overall, > 70 % of flapping flight was associated with take-offs. Movement between weak thermal updrafts at the start of the day also imposed a metabolic cost, with birds flapping towards the end of glides to reach ephemeral thermal updrafts. Nonetheless, the investment required was still remarkably low, and even in winter conditions with weak thermals, condors are only predicted to flap for ~ 2 s per km. The overall flight effort in the largest soaring birds therefore appears to be constrained by the requirements for take-off.
Faculty of Science and Engineering