Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 194, Issue 7, pp 685–691

Power and metabolic scope of bird flight: a phylogenetic analysis of biomechanical predictions

Short Communication


For flying animals aerodynamic theory predicts that mechanical power required to fly scales as P ∝ m7/6 in a series of isometric birds, and that the flight metabolic scope (P/BMR; BMR is basal metabolic rate) scales as Pscope ∝ m5/12. I tested these predictions by using phylogenetic independent contrasts from a set of 20 bird species, where flight metabolic rate was measured during laboratory conditions (mainly in wind tunnels). The body mass scaling exponent for P was 0.90, significantly lower than the predicted 7/6. This is partially due to the fact that real birds show an allometric scaling of wing span, which reduces flight cost. Pscope was estimated using direct measurements of BMR in combination with allometric equations. The body mass scaling of Pscope ranged between 0.31 and 0.51 for three data sets, respectively, and none differed significantly from the prediction of 5/12. Body mass scaling exponents of Pscope differed significantly from 0 in all cases, and so Pscope showed a positive body mass scaling in birds in accordance with the prediction.


Bird flight energy cost Metabolic scope Aerodynamics Phylogenetic contrasts Scaling 

List of symbols


equivalent flat plate area


field resting metabolic rate


metabolic rate of arbitrary non-foraging behaviour


wing span


basal metabolic rate


rate of energy consumption during foraging


gross energy intake


acceleration due to gravity


induced drag factor


metabolic ceiling

m, m0

body mass


mechanical power required to fly


rate of energy accumulation


flight metabolic rate


mechanical power required to fly at minimum power speed


flight metabolic scope


resting metabolic rate


wing disc area (πb2/4)

t1, t2

time periods


flight speed through the air


overall migration speed


phylogenetic dependence


air density


temperature at 50% DNA dissociation in DNA–DNA hybridization


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Theoretical EcologyLund UniversityLundSweden

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