Landing

Birds have perfected the use of stalls and near-stalls as essential techniques for landing.

A bird approaching a landing site often changes its orientation with respect to the airflow from a streamlined flight mode to a more upright posture. This increases drag and the bird slows down. It also changes the angle of attack of the wing, which increases lift. Eventually the wing stalls and the bird drops into the landing site.

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) Chobe River, Botswana. July. Photographer: Peter Cavanagh

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) Chobe River, Botswana. July. Photographer: Peter Cavanagh

The ruffled feathers on the upper wings of the Glossy Ibis (above) show that there is turbulent airflow over the wings indicating an approaching stall. Light aircraft are also often flown so that they are close to a stall condition when landing. This is considered good flying technique.

Greylag Goose (Anser anser) Reykjavik, Iceland. Photographer: Peter Cavanagh

Greylag Goose (Anser anser) Reykjavik, Iceland. Photographer: Peter Cavanagh

Many birds that land on water (such as the Greylag Goose and Whopper Swan above) have broad webbed feet that they use like water skis to make a non-precision landing. Loons and gulls, will sometimes make a “crash landing” on water, becoming almost submerged before they come to a stop.

LEARN MORE about Landing

KIDS QUESTION:In the museum exhibit, we asked: Why do jet aircraft have such long landing runways?

The answer is: Because the plane needs to go very fast just before landing to stay in the air

The stall speed of a Boeing 787 is 150 knots – 172 mph. So the plane cannot be slowed below this speed before landing and long runways are needed to provide braking time.