European shags optimize their flight behavior according to wind conditions

Kogure, Yukihisa; Sato, Katsufumi; Watanuki, Yutaka; Wanless, Sarah; Daunt, Francis. 2016 European shags optimize their flight behavior according to wind conditions. Journal of Experimental Biology, 219 (3). 311-318.

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Aerodynamics results in two characteristic speeds of flying birds: the minimum power speed and the maximum range speed. The minimum power speed requires the lowest rate of energy expenditure per unit time to stay airborne and the maximum range speed maximizes air distance traveled per unit of energy consumed. Therefore, if birds aim to minimize the cost of transport under a range of wind conditions, they are predicted to fly at the maximum range speed. Furthermore, take-off is predicted to be strongly affected by wind speed and direction. To investigate the effect of wind conditions on take-off and cruising flight behavior, we equipped 14 European shags Phalacrocorax aristotelis with a back-mounted GPS logger to measure position and hence ground speed, and a neck-mounted accelerometer to record wing beat frequency and strength. Local wind conditions were recorded during the deployment period. Shags always took off into the wind regardless of their intended destination and take-off duration was correlated negatively with wind speed. We combined ground speed and direction during the cruising phase with wind speed and direction to estimate air speed and direction. Whilst ground speed was highly variable, air speed was comparatively stable, although it increased significantly during strong head winds, because of stronger wing beats. The increased air speeds in head winds suggest that birds fly at the maximum range speed, not at the minimum power speed. Our study demonstrates that European shags actively adjust their flight behavior to utilize wind power to minimize the costs of take-off and cruising flight.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Watt
ISSN: 0022-0949
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 22 Mar 2016 10:34 +0 (UTC)

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