Fast and fuel efficient? Optimal use of wind by flying albatrosses

Proc Biol Sci. 2000 Sep 22;267(1455):1869-74. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2000.1223.


The influence of wind patterns on behaviour and effort of free-ranging male wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) was studied with miniaturized external heart-rate recorders in conjunction with satellite transmitters and activity recorders. Heart rate was used as an instantaneous index of energy expenditure. When cruising with favourable tail or side winds, wandering albatrosses can achieve high flight speeds while expending little more energy than birds resting on land. In contrast, heart rate increases concomitantly with increasing head winds, and flight speeds decrease. Our results show that effort is greatest when albatrosses take off from or land on the water. On a larger scale, we show that in order for birds to have the highest probability of experiencing favourable winds, wandering albatrosses use predictable weather systems to engage in a stereotypical flight pattern of large looping tracks. When heading north, albatrosses fly in anticlockwise loops, and to the south, movements are in a clockwise direction. Thus, the capacity to integrate instantaneous eco-physiological measures with records of large-scale flight and wind patterns allows us to understand better the complex interplay between the evolution of morphological, physiological and behavioural adaptations of albatrosses in the windiest place on earth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Flight, Animal*
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Male
  • Wind*