Limitations of Flight

Birds, beetles, and dragonflies all have something in common with kites, sailboats, and jet jets. Flying a kite can help you learn how hawks hunt near cliffs. If you sail against the wind, you’ll observe how flocks of geese slip sideways across the sky. When you see a frightened duck rocket up from a puddle, you’ll know that no jet engine generates greater power per pound of engine than a Mallard.

The balance of a kite’s weight and the force of the wind against the kite is what keeps it aloft. The greater the area of the kite, the more wind it captures. On the other side, the bigger the area of the kite, the heavier it is, and the stronger the wind must be to keep the kite aloft.

Space-age materials are novel synthetics that are lighter and stronger than conventional kite materials such as wood, paper, and clothing. We now have kites that are small enough to float a person in the air: hang gliding.

However, these new inventions are not as skilled as a hawk or vulture—made of feathers and hollow bone—hanging around on a warm day. The only breeze they need is the sun’s rising, warming rays meeting the night-cooled earth.

So avoid looking for hawks or vultures in the early morning before the cold of the night air has dissipated. These birds are also unlikely to be seen in the evening calm. The air and ground temperatures are generally roughly the same.

Bankers’ hours are worked by birds that rely on winds and updrafts to glide. They begin late in the morning and end late in the evening. Everyone who arrived to North America by boat went against the wind, which is a talent that no sailor should lack. You could have to wait months, if not years, for the next breeze to force you through the sea. You must be able to sail against the wind.

Superior nautical technology is defined by how close you can sail up into the wind while still moving ahead. Geese and cranes seem to excel at it. On migration, they do not fly straight towards the wind, nor do they wait for a following wind or updraught to fly away. Nonetheless, their flight path is affected by the same physical factors that cause sailboats to veer off course. When flying facing the wind, geese seem to meander, much like sailing boats. In actuality, they are changing their flight path to compensate for the fact that flying against the wind prevents them from flying straight to their destination.

Commercial planes are continually attempting to take off or land in the wind. It provides them with greater lift. Is it the same with birds? Many mature birds may not always need to take flight in the wind. Their young, however, who are learning to fly, are unable to fly if there is no wind blowing against them. They lack the requisite strength to gain altitude in the absence of a headwind.

The smaller birds, like as shorebirds, that fly in tight, continuously changing formations along alkaline beaches, are the avian world’s military planes. They are the least reliant on lift to get — and stay — aloft. Their increased strength (thrust in jet engine words) propels them forward.

Shorebirds, like military planes, consume a lot of fuel to go huge distances in a short amount of time. They do this by accumulating bodily fat deposits, growing up to twice their weight before embarking on extended migratory journeys from one continent to another.

Kites that may be flown inside are now available. There is no breeze. Wind resistance is created by the tension of the lines tugging on the kite’s body. They match the capacity of a Turkey Vulture to remain aloft in almost little wind. However, these kites are quite delicate. There’s not even a breath of wind outside, yet they’re tumbling to the earth.

While breezes may assist a bird in getting and staying aloft, too much wind might make it hard to remain aloft and fly with adequate control. Birds are aware of this. They are aware of impending storms. They are most likely responding to a reduction in barometric pressure.

Birds are particularly busy before storms. They are refuelling. Seed eaters may be spotted foraging on the grass. Insect eaters can fly. Birds of prey are on the hunt for voles, mice, and ground squirrels, who are attempting to store up fat reserves in order to safely weather the storm in safe shelters. It’s a good time to go birding.

Flyer Y. Junior is flying. Sailboat classifications. Flying has long been associated with the sea. The Dutchman in the Sky. A phantom ship condemned to cruise the seas in perpetuity. Flying is similar to sailing. Flying, like sailing, moves with or against currents. However, unlike sailing, currents and waves are invisible and largely go undetected by human sight.

Vultures, hawks, kites, and eagles seem to be the birds most reliant on those unseen air currents. They can hunt more easily because of upwellings. And upwellings are most likely important to raptor migratory success.

Some raptor migratory routes are well-documented. Wind-channeling areas between mountains and where sea and land meet. Pathways that take hawks through well-known landmarks including Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania, Cape May in New Jersey, and San Francisco in California.

There are additional, recently identified locations where Golden Eagles migrate south in the autumn, such as west of Calgary, Alberta, in the Rockies. Volunteers are being urged to come out and examine, count, and figure out how significant this corridor is for raptor migration.

Then there are the practically unknown locations—land formations whose relevance to avian life cannot be overstated.

Meteorologists refer to it as a “Colorado low.” Winds from the mountains may cause blizzards in the winter and hail and heavy rain in the summer. This weather formation often follows a course marked down by the Wisconsin Glaciations when they retreated northward ten thousand years ago. To the west of the canal, a meltwater channel is paralleled by morainic debris.

This ancient footprint begins in South Dakota and travels across North Dakota, through the Souris Valley, and into Saskatchewan. It was the likely path of a small flock of Dickcissels—birds not seen in Saskatchewan since the 1930s—from Valley City, North Dakota to Weyburn, Saskatchewan in the year 2000.

Barn Owl sightings in Saskatchewan are uncommon and typically unsubstantiated. The specimen obtained at Weyburn last year was an outlier. It belonged to the Barn Owl subspecies Tyto alba pratincola. Their range includes southern Ontario and the Bahamas. This individual may have originated in the Missouri River basin, from whence it travelled north and up the Souris Valley.

Other birds have moved north in recent years and remained. House Finches, for example, have expanded so quickly that it is hard to speculate on what winds brought them to the Great Plains. The first reported observations of Orchard Orioles, on the other hand, were in the late 1970s near Bromhead, Saskatchewan, which is located in the middle of that historic meltwater channel. From that moment on, the Orchard Oriole expanded to the northwest. According to scientific standards, it will never be known how much of this is a matter of local weather and geography. However, as nature enthusiasts, we will always keep all of these aspects in mind whenever we walk out to view the wonders around us.

We may never completely comprehend why birds do what they do, but that should not discourage us from trying. Weather, weather patterns, and the terrain of where we live and where we go birding will always make us better birders and environmentalists.

And what about dragonflies? These are even older than the life forms of dinosaurs and birds. Those hulking four-winged wonders of flying. The British Harrier aircraft, which is currently being developed under licence for the American Marines, and several experimental Russian planes resemble the dragonfly’s feats of hard spins, mid-air stops, and fast dives and rises.

Martin Bailey writes a weekly nature column for the Weyburn, Saskatchewan newspaper. He has been involved in birding, banding birds of prey, and censusing endangered species for many years. He can be reached at [email protected].

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