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flight

Swallow or Swift?

At a glance, swallows and swifts, both graceful fliers, look much alike. But swifts — like this Chimney Swift — have longer, slimmer wings and short bodies, enabling them to glide for long periods. Their glides are punctuated by rapid, stiff bursts of wing-beats. Swallows, on the other hand, flex... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  birding, birdwatching, flight

Swallow-tailed Kite

There's a bird of prey in the American Southeast that takes grace to an utterly new level: the Swallow-tailed Kite. A sleek raptor with a white head, slender black wings, and a long, deeply forked black tail, the Swallow-tailed Kite almost never flaps its wings. The bird makes sudden tight turns,... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight

Adaptations for Flight

Birds evolved not only wings, but many other adaptations that make it possible to fly. Feathers provide insulation, waterproofing, and a lightweight means to become airborne. Birds have honeycombed or hollow bones, reducing body weight. And instead of weighty jawbones and teeth, birds evolved a... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight

Flyin' in the Rain

Most birds are mostly waterproof. Their feathers, combined with oil from preen glands, keep them pretty watertight. So why do birds avoid flying during rainstorms? It may have more to do with the air than with the water. Rainstorms tend to occur when atmospheric pressure is low. Air in a low... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight

Frigatebirds - Seabirds That Can't Get Wet

Frigatebirds are seabirds, but one thing you’ll never see is a frigatebird floating on the ocean. Why not? Because their feathers, unlike those of nearly all other seabirds, are not waterproof. Instead, frigatebirds are masters of staying aloft. They soar above the ocean, riding a complex roller... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight

Zone-tailed Hawks Mimic Vultures

Zone-tailed Hawks of the American Southwest look a lot like Turkey Vultures. And they often soar among groups of Turkey Vultures. By consorting with vultures, Zone-tailed Hawks gain a distinct advantage as predators. While doves and lizards would quickly flee the flight silhouette of a Red-tailed... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight

Alpine Swifts Fly Nonstop

How long can a bird fly without touching the earth? To find out, Swiss scientists attached sensors to Alpine Swifts. The sensors showed long periods when the swifts were gliding and not flapping their wings. Were the birds asleep? Scientists don’t know for sure. It could be that Alpine Swifts... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight, migration

Flightless Birds: Evolving the Inability to Fly

The ability to fly seems to define birds. But there are more than 50 species of flightless birds throughout the world — from the Ostrich and Kiwi to flightless rails, ducks, and this Humboldt Penguin. Why did they evolve the inability to fly? Many dwelt on islands. Others evolved until they were... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight

How Do Birds Brake from Flight?

Birds are often admired for their ability to fly. But braking just in time to avoid a crash landing is amazing by itself. How does a robin go from full-out flight to a dead stop at a tree? If we could watch in slow motion, we’d see it raising the angle of its wings higher and higher from the... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight

Helping Birds Avoid Colliding with Glass

Birds colliding with glass is a real problem, especially during migration. Many cities have initiated Lights Out! programs, which helps. And there are things that homeowners can do, too. BirdNote's Chris Peterson interviewed Christine Sheppard of the American Bird Conservancy about the problem... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight, human interaction

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