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J Comp Physiol B. 2007 Apr;177(3):327-37. Epub 2006 Dec 14.

Energy expenditure and wing beat frequency in relation to body mass in free flying Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica).

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Department of Biological Rhythms and Behaviour, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Von-der-Tann-Str. 7, 82346 Andechs, Germany.


Many bird species steeply increase their body mass prior to migration. These fuel stores are necessary for long flights and to overcome ecological barriers. The elevated body mass is generally thought to cause higher flight costs. The relationship between mass and costs has been investigated mostly by interspecific comparison and by aerodynamic modelling. Here, we directly measured the energy expenditure of Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) flying unrestrained and repeatedly for several hours in a wind tunnel with natural variations in body mass. Energy expenditure during flight (e (f), in W) was found to increase with body mass (m, in g) following the equation e (f) = 0.38 x m (0.58). The scaling exponent (0.58) is smaller than assumed in aerodynamic calculations and than observed in most interspecific allometric comparisons. Wing beat frequency (WBF, in Hz) also scales with body mass (WBF = 2.4 x m (0.38)), but at a smaller exponent. Hence there is no linear relationship between e (f) and WBF. We propose that spontaneous changes in body mass during endurance flights are accompanied by physiological changes (such as enhanced oxygen and nutrient supply of the muscles) that are not taken into consideration in standard aerodynamic calculations, and also do not appear in interspecific comparison.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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