Longitudinal and principal strain recordings were made in vivo at three sites (dorsal, anterior, and ventral) on the humeral midshaft of pigeons executing five modes of free flight: Take-off, level flight, landing, vertical ascent, and near-vertical descent. Strains were also recorded while the birds flew carrying weights that were 33%, 50%, or 100% of their body weight. The relative distribution of strain measured at the three surface midshaft sites and across the bone's cortex was found to be similar for all flight modes. Principal strains recorded in the dorsal and ventral humerus indicated considerable torsion produced by aerodynamic loading of the wing surface posterior to the bone. Measured torsional shear strains (maximum: 2,700–4,150 μ ε during level flight) were 1.5 times greater than longitudinal strains. In addition to torsion, the humerus is also subjected to significant dorsoventral bending owing to lift forces acting on the wing during the downstroke. Analysis of the cross-sectional distribution of longitudinal strains at the humeral midshaft cortex shows that the orientation of bending shifts in a regular manner during the downstroke, indicating that the wing generates progressively more thurst (vs. lift) later in the downstroke. This shift is less during take-off and vertical ascent when greater lift is required. Peak principal and longitudinal strains increased by an average of only 50% from landing to vertical ascending flight and take-off (e.g., dorsal humerus: −1,503 to −2,329 μ ε) and did not exceed −2,600 μ epsiv; at any site, even when the birds flew carrying twice their body weight. Strains recorded when birds flew at two times their body weight (100% BW load) were similar in magnitude to those recorded during vertical ascent and take-off and likely represent those developed during maximal performance. Strains developed within the midshaft were maximal in the anterodorsal and posteroventral cortices, not at the dorsal, ventral, and anterior sites at which strain was recorded. Consequently, maximum strains experienced by the bone are probably 20–25% greater than those recorded (ca. 3,200 μ ε), indicating a safety factor of about 3.5 for compressive strain failure. The much higher shear strains, however, indicate a lower safety factor (1.9), in which the bone's torsional strength is its most critical design feature. Finally, the magnitude and distribution of strains developed in the humerus of pigeons are generally similar to those recorded in the humerus of large fruit-eating bats during flight. © 1995 Wiley-Liss, Inc.