The electrical activity of major caudal muscles of the pigeon (Columba livia) was recorded during five modes of aerial and terrestrial locomotion. Tail muscle electromyograms were correlated with movement using high-speed cinematography and compared to activity in selected muscles of the wings, legs and trunk. During walking, the pectoralis and most tail muscles are normally inactive, but levator muscle activity alternates with the striding legs. In flight, caudal muscles are phasically active with each wingbeat and undergo distinct changes in electromyographic pattern between liftoff, takeoff, slow level flapping and landing modes. The temporal flexibility of tail muscle activity differs significantly from the stereotypic timing of wing muscles in pigeons performing the same flight modes. These neural programs may represent different solutions to the control of flight surfaces in the rapidly oscillating wing and the relatively stationary caudal skeleton. Birds exhibit a novel alliance of tail and forelimb use during aerial locomotion. We suggest that there is evidence of anatomical and functional decoupling of the tail from adjacent hindlimb and trunk muscles during avian evolution to facilitate its specialization for rectricial control in flight.

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