Scaling trends of bird's alular feathers in connection to leading-edge vortex flow over hand-wing

Sci Rep. 2020 May 13;10(1):7905. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-63181-7.


An aerodynamic structure ubiquitous in Aves is the alula; a small collection of feathers muscularized near the wrist joint. New research into the aerodynamics of this structure suggests that its primary function is to induce leading-edge vortex (LEV) flow over bird's outer hand-wing to enhance wing lift when manuevering at slow speeds. Here, we explore scaling trends of the alula's spanwise position and its connection to this function. Specifically, we test the hypothesis that the relative distance of the alula from the wing tip is that which maximizes LEV-lift when the wing is spread and operated in a deep-stall flight condition. To test this, we perform experiments on model wings in a wind tunnel to approximate this distance and compare our results to positional measurements of the alula on spread-wing specimens. We found the position of the alula on non-aquatic birds selected for alula optimization to be located at or near the lift-maximizing position predicted by wind tunnel experiments. These findings shed new light on avian wing anatomy and the role of unconventional aerodynamics in shaping it.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Biophysical Phenomena*
  • Birds*
  • Feathers*
  • Flight, Animal / physiology*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Wings, Animal*