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Proc Biol Sci. 2001 Jul 22;268(1475):1443-8.

Lift generation by the avian tail.

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1UG, UK.


Variation with tail spread of the lift generated by a bird tail was measured on mounted, frozen European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) in a wind tunnel at a typical air speed and body and tail angle of attack in order to test predictions of existing aerodynamic theories modelling tail lift. Measured lift at all but the lowest tail spread angles was significantly lower than the predictions of slender wing, leading edge vortex and lifting line models of lift production. Instead, the tail lift coefficient based on tail area was independent of tail spread, tail aspect ratio and maximum tail span. Theoretical models do not predict bird tail lift reliably and, when applied to tail morphology, may underestimate the aerodynamic optimum tail feather length. Flow visualization experiments reveal that an isolated tail generates leading edge vortices as expected for a low-aspect ratio delta wing, but that in the intact bird body-tail interactions are critical in determining tail aerodynamics: lifting vortices shed from the body interact with the tail and degrade tail lift compared with that of an isolated tail.

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