Mechanical independence of wingbeat and breathing in starlings

Respir Physiol. 1992 Jul;89(1):27-36. doi: 10.1016/0034-5687(92)90068-8.


The pectoral muscles in birds comprise up to a third of the body weight and provide the principal drive to the wing. Their attachment to the sternum suggests that they could compress the thorax and assist ventilation during flight. Most, but not all, birds have an integer ratio relationship between wingbeat and breathing frequency, but no measurements of the respiratory flow associated with the act of wingbeat are available. We recorded respiratory flow and wing timing in three starlings that flew at 22 knots (11 m.s-1) for up to 5 min in a wind tunnel. Triggering on wingbeat, we ensemble averaged flow records for many wingbeats in each flight. Because wingbeats occurred throughout the respiratory cycle, breathing flow tended to average to zero, and a small flow event related to wingbeat emerged. The volume change associated with wingbeat ranged from 3 to 11% of tidal volume, and this is probably an overestimate. We conclude that wingbeat and breathing in starlings are essentially mechanically independent, despite the direct attachment of the locomotor muscles to the thorax.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Flight, Animal / physiology
  • Lung Volume Measurements
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Respiratory Mechanics / physiology*
  • Wings, Animal / physiology*