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The physiological basis of bird flight

August 31 , 2016

Flapping flight is energetically more costly than running, although it is less costly to fly a given body mass a given distance per unit time than it is for a similar mass to run the same distance per unit time. This is mainly because birds can fly faster than they can run. Oxygen transfer and transport are enhanced in migrating birds compared with those in non-migrators: at the gas-exchange regions of the lungs the effective area is greater and the diffusion distance smaller. Also, migrating birds have larger hearts and haemoglobin concentrations in the blood, and capillary density in the flight muscles tends to be higher. Species like bar-headed geese migrate at high altitudes, where the availability of oxygen is reduced and the energy cost of flapping flight increased compared with those at sea level. Physiological adaptations to these conditions include haemoglobin with a higher affinity for oxygen than that in lowland birds, a greater effective ventilation of the gas-exchange surface of the lungs and a greater capillary-to-muscle fibre ratio. Migrating birds use fatty acids as their source of energy, so they have to be transported at a sufficient rate to meet the high demand. Since fatty acids are insoluble in water, birds maintain high concentrations of fatty acid–binding proteins to transport fatty acids across the cell membrane and within the cytoplasm. The concentrations of these proteins, together with that of a key enzyme in the β-oxidation of fatty acids, increase before migration.\

Patrick J. Butler (2016)
The physiological basis of bird flight
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: 371 20150384
Published 15 August 2016.
DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0384


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