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Integr Comp Biol. 2002 Feb;42(1):141-8. doi: 10.1093/icb/42.1.141.

Bird maneuvering flight: blurred bodies, clear heads.

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Department of Biology, Minot State University, Minot, North Dakota 58701.


While useful in describing the efficiency of maneuvering flight, steady-state (i.e., fixed wing) models of maneuvering performance cannot provide insight to the efficacy of maneuvering, particularly during low-speed flapping flight. Contrasted with airplane-analogous gliding/high speed maneuvering, the aerodynamic and biomechanical mechanisms employed by birds at low flight speeds are violent, with rapidly alternating forces routinely being developed. The saltatory nature of this type of flight results in extreme linear and angular displacements of the bird's body; however, birds isolate their heads from these accelerations with cervical reflexes. Experiments with pigeons suggest this ability to isolate the visual and vestibular systems is critical to controlled flapping flight: birds wearing collars that prohibited the neck from isolating the head from the angular accelerations of induced rolls frequently exhibited (50% of flights) a loss of vestibular and/or visual horizon and were unable to maintain controlled flight.


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