Flight speed of seabirds in relation to wind speed and direction
Article first published online: 28 JUN 2008
Volume 139, Issue 2, pages 234–251, April 1997
How to Cite
SPEAR, L. B. and AINLEY, D. G. (1997), Flight speed of seabirds in relation to wind speed and direction. Ibis, 139: 234–251. doi: 10.1111/j.1474-919X.1997.tb04621.x
- Issue published online: 28 JUN 2008
- Article first published online: 28 JUN 2008
We studied flight speed among all major seabird taxa. Our objectives were to provide further insight into dynamics of seabird flight and to develop allometric equations relating ground speed to wind speed and direction for use in adjusting seabird density estimates (calculated from surveys at sea) for the effect of bird movement. We used triangulation at sea to estimate ground speeds of 1562 individuals of 98 species. Species sorted into 25 “groups” based on similarity in ground speeds and taxonomy. After they were controlled for differences inground speed, the 25 groups sorted into eight major “types” on the basis of response to wind speed and wind direction. Wind speed and direction explained 1664% of the variation in ground speed among seabird types. For analyses on air speed (ground speed minus apparent wind speed), we divided the 25 groups according to four flight styles: gliding, flap-gliding, glide-flapping and flapping. Tailwind speed had little effect on air speed of gliders (albatrosses and large gadfly petrels), but species that more often used flapping decreased air speed with increase in tailwinds. All species increased air speeds significantly with increased headwinds. Gliders showed the greatest increase relative to increase in headwind speed and flappers the least. With tailwind flight, air speeds were greatest among species with highest wing loading for each flight style except gliders, which showed no relationship. For headwind flight, species with higher wing loading had higher air speeds; however, the relation was weaker in flappers compared with species using some amount of gliding. In contrast, analyses for air speed ratio (i.e. difference between air speed in acrosswinds [with no apparent wind] and speed flown into headwinds, or with tailwinds, divided by speed acrosswind) revealed that among species using some flapping, and with lower wing loading (surface-feeding shearwaters, small gadfly petrels, storm petrels, phalaropes, gulls and terns), adjusted air speeds more than those with higher wing loading (alcids, “diving shearwaters”, “Manx-type shearwaters”, pelicans, boobies and cormorants). As a result, most flappers of low wing loading flew much faster than Vmr (the most energy efficient air speed per distance flown) when flying into headwinds. We suggest that better-than-predicted gliding performance with acrosswinds and tailwinds of large gadfly petrels, compared with albatrosses, resulted from a different type of “soaring” not previously described in seabirds.