Bird terrestrial locomotion as revealed by 3D kinematics

Zoology (Jena). 2011 Dec;114(6):360-8. doi: 10.1016/j.zool.2011.07.002. Epub 2011 Oct 5.


Most birds use at least two modes of locomotion: flying and walking (terrestrial locomotion). Whereas the wings and tail are used for flying, the legs are mainly used for walking. The role of other body segments remains, however, poorly understood. In this study, we examine the kinematics of the head, the trunk, and the legs during terrestrial locomotion in the quail (Coturnix coturnix). Despite the trunk representing about 70% of the total body mass, its function in locomotion has received little scientific interest to date. This prompted us to focus on its role in terrestrial locomotion. We used high-speed video fluoroscopic recordings of quails walking at voluntary speeds on a trackway. Dorso-ventral and lateral views of the motion of the skeletal elements were recorded successively and reconstructed in three dimensions using a novel method based on the temporal synchronisation of both views. An analysis of the trajectories of the body parts and their coordination showed that the trunk plays an important role during walking. Moreover, two sub-systems participate in the gait kinematics: (i) the integrated 3D motion of the trunk and thighs allows for the adjustment of the path of the centre of mass; (ii) the motion of distal limbs transforms the alternating forward motion of the feet into a continuous forward motion at the knee and thus assures propulsion. Finally, head bobbing appears qualitatively synchronised to the movements of the trunk. An important role for the thigh muscles in generating the 3D motion of the trunk is suggested by an analysis of the pelvic anatomy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Coturnix / physiology*
  • Gait
  • Head / physiology
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Joints / physiology
  • Walking*