Many small passerines regularly fly slowly when catching prey, flying in cluttered environments or landing on a perch or nest. While flying slowly, passerines generate most of the flight forces during the downstroke, and have a 'feathered upstroke' during which they make their wing inactive by retracting it close to the body and by spreading the primary wing feathers. How this flight mode relates aerodynamically to the cruising flight and so-called 'normal hovering' as used in hummingbirds is not yet known. Here, we present time-resolved fluid dynamics data in combination with wingbeat kinematics data for three pied flycatchers flying across a range of speeds from near hovering to their calculated minimum power speed. Flycatchers are adapted to low speed flight, which they habitually use when catching insects on the wing. From the wake dynamics data, we constructed average wingbeat wakes and determined the time-resolved flight forces, the time-resolved downwash distributions and the resulting lift-to-drag ratios, span efficiencies and flap efficiencies. During the downstroke, slow-flying flycatchers generate a single-vortex loop wake, which is much more similar to that generated by birds at cruising flight speeds than it is to the double loop vortex wake in hovering hummingbirds. This wake structure results in a relatively high downwash behind the body, which can be explained by the relatively active tail in flycatchers. As a result of this, slow-flying flycatchers have a span efficiency which is similar to that of the birds in cruising flight and which can be assumed to be higher than in hovering hummingbirds. During the upstroke, the wings of slowly flying flycatchers generated no significant forces, but the body-tail configuration added 23 per cent to weight support. This is strikingly similar to the 25 per cent weight support generated by the wing upstroke in hovering hummingbirds. Thus, for slow-flying passerines, the upstroke cannot be regarded as inactive, and the tail may be of importance for flight efficiency and possibly manoeuvrability.
- Aerodynamic flight performance
- Bird Ficedula hypoleuca
- Inclined stroke plane hovering
- Slow flight
- Wind tunnel