Sustained climb rates and airspeeds in flapping flight were measured by radar tracking fifteen species of migrating birds ranging in body mass between 10 g and 10 kg. There was an inverse correlation between body size and climb rate: the lowest mean climb rate, 0.32 m s−1, was observed in the mute swan and the highest mean value, 1.63ms−1, in the dunlin. Some dunlin flocks achieved sustained climb rates exceeding 2ms−1, up to 2.14ms−1. Assuming that the migrants expend maximum sustained power during their climbs, the climbing power can be used as a conservative estimate of the power margin. Estimates of climbing power for the species tracked by radar were used, in conjunction with aerodynamic theory, to calculate the amount of extra load the migrants should be able to carry if their power margin was used for load transportation rather than for climbing. Calculated ratios of total body mass with maximum load to lean body mass ranged between 1.28 and 2.75, showing an overall negative correlation with body size. There was a broad agreement with maximum fuel loads observed among freeliving birds, indicating that the upper limits of fuel-carrying capacities and flight ranges in migrating birds are determined by power margin constraints in sustained flapping flight. Markedly reduced climb rates have been recorded for shorebirds departing with very large fuel reserves from W. Africa and Iceland, supporting the calculated trade-off between climb rate and fuel load. Total power consumption was estimated as the sum of calculated aerodynamic power for forward flight and climbing power. The ratio of total power to the expected minimum aerodynamic power was 1.1-1.3 in the three largest species, increasing to 2–4 in the smallest species. Medium- and small-sized species seem to allocate power in excess of the minimum aerodynamic power not only for climbing but also for maintaining a forward speed faster than the minimum power speed. Given provisional estimates of flight muscle masses and wingbeat frequencies, the mass-specific sustained muscle work for the different climbing bird species was calculated to be in the range 16–41 joules per kilogram muscle mass, showing a significant positive correlation with body mass

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