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How birds fly.

Wouldn't it be cool to soar above the earth with the birds? Find out what it takes to fly.


Flying gives birds some big advantages. It helps them:

* escape from enemies

* move faster than when running

* get food from many different places each day

* migrate to far-off lands.

Can you think of any other good reasons to fly?


Jump: To start flying, most birds use their strong leg muscles to jump into the air. Then they quickly flap their wings and fly off. Others dive from cliffs and soar away.

Run: Swans, loons, and some ducks run across the water as they flap. They look something like airplanes taking off.


Most birds flap when they fly. Hummingbirds are the champion flappers. And they can stay in one place in the air, or hover, as they feed from a flower. But flapping takes a lot of energy. Seabirds with long wings save energy as they glide on the winds that blow across the water. And hawks and vultures soar up and up on currents of warm air rising from fields, roads, or other hot areas. (Turn to pages 18--19 to see patterns birds make when flying.)


When a bird beats its wings, the wing feathers push down and back against the air--just as your hands push against the water when you swim. This pushing moves the bird forward through the air.

But flying can mess up some feathers. So when the bird stops, it often preens by pulling its feathers through its beak. Then the feathers become smooth again.


Air moves smoothly over a flying bird's body the way it moves over the sleek body of an airplane. A bird doesn't have pointy ears or other things that stick out and catch the wind. Most birds even tuck up their legs and feet when they fly--the way an airplane pulls up its wheels.


A bird can tip and turn its tail to help it steer. And when the bird lands, it bends the tail down and spreads its tail feathers to "put on the brakes." (Flip to the other side of this poster to see how an owl bends its tail to slow down before landing.)


If you could be a bird, which of the wings at right would you want? Long, narrow wings (1) are great for gliding on air currents. Slender, curved wings (2) are best for long-distance flying. And broad, rounded wings (3, and like the macaw's above) work well for making quick twists and turns.


The wing of a bird or airplane is rounded on top (see drawing at left). This makes air flow over the top of the wing faster than it flows along the bottom. The slower-moving air pushes up on the wing more than the faster-moving air pushes down. This gives lift, which keeps the bird or plane from falling. Can you see why a Frisbee flies best with the hump on top?


A bird's primary feathers (the long ones at its wingtips) are shaped like little wings. When the primary feathers are spread (below), each one helps lift the bird.


If you could be a bird, which of the wings at right would you want? Long, narrow wings (1) are great for gliding on air currents. Slender, curved wings (2) are best for long-distance flying. And broad, rounded wings (3, and like the macaw's above) work well for making quick twists and turns.


Nothing about a bird is heavy. Its wing feathers are tough, but they weigh hardly anything. Its bones are strong, but they're full of air pockets that make them light (see drawing in circle below). Instead of the heavy jaw bones and teeth that mammals have, birds have lightweight beaks. And they don't carry their urine around in bladders. Instead, their urine comes out often, mixed with their droppings. Look out below!


Flying uses up a lot of energy. Birds' bodies use the energy in food much faster than our bodies do. And their hearts beat about six times faster than ours to pump the blood around to muscles that need plenty of oxygen. So birds have to eat often and a lot.


Birds pull their wings up and down with powerful chest muscles (below). For its size, a bird has much stronger chest muscles than a human does.


Count how many times you can flap your arms up and down in 10 seconds. The list below tells how fast some birds usually flap their wings. As you can see, most birds flap really fast. Can you flap as fast as a heron?
Heron         20 times
Pigeon        60 times
Starling      70 times
Chickadee    270 times
Hummingbird  700 times


There's a lot more to find out about how birds--or insects or airplanes--fly. Just zoom to your library and you'll find a bunch of books (and maybe even a video) on flight.


* Birds are the world's fastest animals. Peregrine falcons and swifts can dive through the air at more than 200 miles (320 km) per hour. Birds flying straight ahead can move along pretty fast too. For example, geese and ducks often travel at 60 miles (96 km) per hour.

* A ruby-throated hummingbird weighs no more than a nickel, yet it can fly 500 miles (800 km) nonstop over the Gulf of Mexico.

* Condors sometimes throw up to make their bodies lighter for a quick take-off.

* Nearly all of the 9500 kinds of birds can fly. Most of the birds that can't are strong runners like ostriches or great swimmers like penguins.

* Birds such as Canada geese save energy by flying in V-shaped flocks. The bird in front of each goose creates a swirl of air with its wings. This swirl gives the bird behind a little extra lift.

* The Arctic tern is the long-distance champ. It migrates from the Arctic to the Antarctic--a 25,000-mile (40,000-km) round trip.

* A vulture set the record for the highest known flight of a bird. It collided with an airplane at 37,000 feet (11,100 m).

* Owls have very soft edges on their wing feathers. This makes their flight almost silent, which means they can sneak up on prey more easily.
COPYRIGHT 1995 National Wildlife Federation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Miller, Claire
Publication:Ranger Rick
Date:Sep 1, 1995
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