Ask a Biologist
What are the mechanics/biomechanics which allow puddle ducks to perform a vertical take-off. They seem to just elevate straight up with minimal forward motion. How do they accomplish this?
TakeoffI’ll start by explaining that wing shapes give birds different aerodynamic properties. Whether they are long and slender or short and broad, the shape of the wing will enhance flight characteristics such as speed, maneuverability, hovering, soaring, low energy use, etc. There are also two methods to measure flight capabilities, and that’s the aspect ratio (the square of the wingspan divided by the wing area), and wing loading (relationship between total body mass and total wing area).
Dabbling ducks in comparison to diving ducks have larger wing areas relative to their body weight. Their wings are longer, rounder, and have really well developed wingtip slotting. All of this improves their ability to land and take off in tight spaces. Taking off vertically out of the water requires the duck to push with their wings and their feet simultaneously. Usually facing the wind, the dabbler will create airflow past the wings by flapping backward up and forward down, angling the primaries (largest flight feathers) to produce the maximum thrust. Lift occurs when airflow on the wing has lower pressure just above the wing, and higher pressure below. Divers wings are more streamlined, which helps with swimming and diving, but requires a build up of speed in order to take off.
Other duck adaptations that would assist in flight, would be their hollow lightweight bones, strong pelvic girdles, powerful flight muscles, keeled sternum to support these large flight muscles, powerful and highly modified joints in the forelimbs, fused skeleton (in the hind end, head and hands), and uncinate process in the ribs (overlying flaps projecting off the ribs strengthening the rib cage so it will not collapse during powerful strokes).
Dr. Frank Rohwer (Delta’s Scientific Director) and Fred Greenslade (Delta’s Photographer) have captured the mechanics and biomechanics of flight in great detail in Delta’s Winter 2006 Report. It is extremely fascinating and may give you additional insight on the miracles of flight. You should definitely check that out!