The flight behaviour of barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) and house martins (Delichon urbica) was tested in a wind tunnel at 15 combinations of flight angles and speeds. In contrast to that of most other small passerines, the intermittent flight of hirundines rarely consists of regular patterns of flapping and rest phases. To vary mechanical power output, both species used intermittent flight, controlling the number of single, pulse-like wingbeats per unit time. House martins in descent tended to concentrate their wingbeats into bursts and performed true gliding flight during rest phases. Barn swallows mainly performed partial bounds during brief interruptions of upstrokes, which they progressively prolonged with decreasing flight angle. Thus, identification of distinct flapping phases to calculate wingbeat frequencies was not feasible. Instead, an effective wingbeat frequency for flight intervals of 20 s, including partial bounds, was introduced. The effective wingbeat frequencies of house martins (N=3) ranged from 2 to 10.5 s(−)(1), those of barn swallows (N=4) from 2.5 to 8.5 s(−)(1). In both hirundine species, effective wingbeat frequency was found to decrease almost linearly with decreasing flight angle. With changes in air speed, wingbeat frequency varied according to a U-shaped curve, suggesting a minimum power speed of roughly 9 m s(−)(1). The duration of the down- and upstrokes varied systematically depending on flight angle and air speed.
Flexibility in flight behaviour of barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) and house martins (Delichon urbica) tested in a wind tunnel
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L. Bruderer, F. Liechti, D. Bilo; Flexibility in flight behaviour of barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) and house martins (Delichon urbica) tested in a wind tunnel. J Exp Biol 15 April 2001; 204 (8): 1473–1484. doi: https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.204.8.1473
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