Birds form the largest extant group of bipedal animals and occupy a broad range of body masses, from grams to hundreds of kilograms. Additionally, birds occupy distinct niches of locomotor behaviour, from totally flightless strong runners such as the ratites (moa, kiwi, ostrich) to birds that may walk, dabble on water or fly. We apply a whole-bone approach to investigate allometric scaling trends in the pelvic limb bones (femur, tibiotarsus, tarsometatarsus) from extant and recently extinct birds of greatly different size, and compare scaling between birds in four locomotor groups; flightless, burst-flying, dabbling and flying. We also compare scaling of birds' femoral cross-sectional properties to data previously collected from cats. Scaling exponents were not significantly different between the different locomotor style groups, but elevations of the scaling relationships revealed that dabblers (ducks, geese, swans) have particularly short and slender femora compared with other birds of similar body mass. In common with cats, but less pronounced in birds, the proximal and distal extrema of the bones scaled more strongly than the diaphysis, and in larger birds the diaphysis occupied a smaller proportion of bone length than in smaller birds. Cats and birds have similar femoral cross-sectional area (CSA) for the same body mass, yet birds' bone material is located further from the bone's long axis, leading to higher second and polar moments of area and a greater inferred resistance to bending and twisting. The discrepancy in the relationship between outer diameter to CSA may underlie birds' reputation for having 'light' bones.
© 2012 The Authors. Journal of Anatomy © 2012 Anatomical Society.