A lab that has won National Science Foundation funding for 25 years, and published dozens of papers has released details of their research in an interview with www.nytimes.com, which shows some amazing newly discovered features of bird flight.
Dial, is a biologist at University of Montana Flight Laboratory, who, in 1988, founded the lab at a field station near the University of Montana. He is a bird flight researcher who never stops being amazed at what these creatures routinely achieve when flying. They can go from 40 miles an hour to zero and land nimbly every time, on a branch that is itself moving, and do this all in a couple of seconds. It’s inspiring he says.
After observing woodpeckers in the laboratory’s wind tunnel, he has witnessed them both flying and bounding and gliding missile-like with their wings tucked, which is a behavior not previously identified in these birds.
The birds he has studied, ranging from delicate diamond doves to burly ravens, have crystal sensors surgically implanted in their pectorals and elsewhere that measure muscle contractions as they fly. He says that they have found that bird pectorals are the motor for 80 percent of flight.
He says that it is this which explains why they are the largest part of the anatomy of birds. He and his team have made other discoveries, as well, about how birds generate enormous power and can resist fatigue, and why it is possible for some to have the stamina to be able to fly from one pole to the other without stopping. This is clearly orders of magnitude more impressive than any human could achieve.
Through their research they have been able to develop a number of special tools using the latest computer and laser technology to reveal aspects of high speed motion in bird flight at levels of detail which could only be dreamt of previously. These tools allow the research team to see things that have always been thought about but never shown.
The research has led people to realize just how complex bird flight is and how many different things are happening when a bird flies.
For example, birds clap their wings together at the peak of the upstroke during takeoff that is the clatter you hear of a pigeon taking off in the park, and they rotate their wings on the way down to get lift. During such motion the wings suck in air, like a fan.