Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



Special scientific report (Virginia Institute of Marine Science); no. 50


The capability of flight plays a central role in the lives of most birds. Indeed, the existing morphological and ecological characteristics of many species are almost entirely dictated by the aerodynamic requirements of the highly developed flight modes they have acquired through evolutional specialization. In the case of such species, a clear understanding of the aerodynamic mechanisms underlying the particular flight modes can often provide a lucid insight into the basic physical relationships which govern a bird's characteristic activities and behavior.

This aerodynamic approach to the study of avian ecology is particularly useful in the case of soaring birds, where survival depends entirely upon the aerodynamic efficiency of the bird in exploiting the energy of special forms of air currents for sustained flight, and where the wing actions are sufficiently simple that the flight patterns can adequately be formulated for aerodynamic analysis. Such an approach was utilized by the author in a recent study of land birds which practice soaring flight in thermal air currents. By applying aerodynamic precepts to the analysis and interpretation of observed flight patterns, it was possible to explain, correlate, and even predict many facts of importance in the morphology and ecology of the land soarers. It is the purpose of the present study to apply a similar analysis to the dynamic soaring flight of sea birds, such as the albatross, and to utilize the results for establishing the significant factors in the ecology of the ocean soarers.



Albatrosses, Birds--Flight



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