Journal of Bionic Engineering

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 505–515 | Cite as

Gravitation-enabled Forward Acceleration during Flap-bounding Flight in Birds

  • Yi Wang
  • Bret W. Tobalske
  • Bo Cheng
  • Xinyan Deng


Flap-bounding, a form of intermittent flight, is often exhibited by small birds over their entire range of flight speeds. Its purpose is unclear during low to medium speed (2 m·s−1–8 m·s−1) flight: aerodynamic models suggest continuous flapping would require less power output and lower cost of transport. To explore its functional significance at low speeds, we measured body trajectory and kinematics of wings and tail of two zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) during flights between two perches in a laboratory. The flights consisted of three phases: initial, descending and ascending. Zebra finch first accelerated using continuous flapping, then descended, featuring intermittent bounds. The flight was completed by ascending using nearly-continuous flapping. When exiting bounds in descending phase, they achieved higher velocity than that of pre-bound forward by swinging their body forward similar to pendular motion with conserved mechanical energy. We recorded takeoffs of three black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) in the wild and also found similar kinematics. Our modeling of power output indicated finch achieved higher velocity (13%) with lower cost of transport (9%) when descending, compared with continuous flapping in previously studied pigeons. Flap-bounding could be useful for unmanned aerial vehicle design by mimicking descending flight to achieve rapid take-off and transition to forward flight.


zebra finch intermittent flight aerodynamics power unmanned aerial vehicle 


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All procedures involving the animals were approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of University of Montana. We thank Anne Davis for assistance with preliminary research that motivated the present study and Mathew Gutierrez and Gaëlle Lefeuvre for assistance with video recording indoors and outdoors, respectively. Supported by NSF CMMI 1234747.

Supplementary material

42235_2018_41_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1.5 mb)
Gravitation-enabled Forward Acceleration during Flap-bounding Flight in Birds


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Copyright information

© Jilin University 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yi Wang
    • 1
  • Bret W. Tobalske
    • 2
  • Bo Cheng
    • 3
  • Xinyan Deng
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Mechanical EngineeringPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  2. 2.Field Research Station at Fort Missoula, Division of Biological SciencesUniversity of MontanaMissoulaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Mechanical and Nuclear EngineeringPennsylvania State University, University ParkPennsylvaniaUSA

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