Gliding and Soaring

Migrating birds, like the Golden Eagle (above) often soar using currents of rising air to lower the energy cost of their long flights. Uneven heating of the surface of the Earth by the sun generates these currents, which are called thermals. The long, broad wings of the Golden Eagle are well suited to soaring. The […]

Wing Shape and Size

The wing shapes of birds are adapted to suit their behaviors and environments. For each unit of lift, the drag created by a long slender wing (see the Laysan Albatross, above) is reduced compared to a broader wing of the same area. This lowers energy cost during gliding and soaring in extended oceanic foraging trips. For […]

Rare Wings

The capacity for flight has helped birds adapt to a changing environment but extinction is becoming increasingly more probable for a worrying number of bird species. The population of Whooping Cranes (above) reached a low of less than 20 birds in the 1940s. Today, after drastic measures such as hand-rearing and guided flight to new […]

Quiet Wings

  Night-hunting owls find their food using a keen sense of hearing. But they also rely on the stealth that comes from special adaptations to reduce flight noise. The fluffy feathers that cover the underside of the owl’s body and its legs and feet appear to act as sound dampers. The wings also have several […]

Flightless Wings

There are three main benefits of flight that have allowed the world’s 10,000 species of birds to thrive: Flight enables a bird to search for food over a wide area Birds can fly to escape non-flying predators As the seasons change, birds can migrate to a more favorable location On the island of Fernandina in […]

Swimming Wings

Several species of birds—including Atlantic and Tufted Puffins (above)—use their wings for propulsion when flying through the air and when diving under water. They have small wings and laborious flight patterns in air, reflecting the compromise necessary for this dual use. When diving underwater, puffins flap their partly folded wings with the tips trailing the […]

Colorful Wings

  Charles Darwin discovered that the bright color of many male birds provides an advantage in the choice of a mate. This is because female birds are attracted to most vibrant males. These brilliant colors have also been detrimental for a number of bird species— such as the Roseate Spoonbill (above). During the 19th and […]


Hummingbird flight is unique. “Hummers”, like the Purple-throated Whitestar above, can hover perfectly, they can fly backward, upside down, at extremely high speeds, and they can turn rapidly. Their wings beat at a faster rate than any other movement among vertebrates. During hovering, hummingbird wings move forward and backward in a “figure eight”, generating lift […]