Study suggests dark-colored wing feathers may help birds fly more efficiently

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A team of researchers at the University of Ghent has found evidence that suggests birds with white wing feathers close to the body and black wing tips get increased lift from their wing colors. In their paper published in Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the group describes their study of wing color in several species of birds and what they found.

Humans have been studying birds and other flying creatures likely since the time they could think. In a new study, researchers wondered if the color of a bird had any impact on flying efficiency. To find out, they collected several stuffed samples and brought them to their lab for study.

The experiments consisted of putting stuffed wings in a , heating them with infrared lights and then testing them to see what happened. They were most interested in soaring birds such as back-blacked gulls, gannets and osprey. They tested samples of each under various wind conditions to see if color had an impact on flying efficiency. Notably, soaring birds can at times gain altitude without even flapping their wings due to undercurrents.

The researchers report that dark feathers grew hotter than lighter colored feathers and they also gained heat faster than lighter colors. But it was birds that had white or light-colored near their bodies and dark or black feathers on the rest of their wings that saw a real benefit. The researchers found temperature differences as great as nine degrees between black and white feathers on the same wings—enough to create a convection current in the air just over the wing, moving from the bird's body outward along the wing. They noted that this boosted airflow, which, they assumed, made flying more efficient. The researchers plan to continue studying this effect in birds, hoping to determine just how much of an increase in lift the actually get from their color differences—and if there are differences in drag.

Explore further

Flying without wings: Losing feathers has a detrimental effect on migrating birds

More information: Svana Rogalla et al. Hot wings: thermal impacts of wing coloration on surface temperature during bird flight, Journal of The Royal Society Interface (2019). DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2019.0032

© 2019 Science X Network

Citation: Study suggests dark-colored wing feathers may help birds fly more efficiently (2019, July 25) retrieved 23 August 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Jul 26, 2019
At this time they have nothing except an idea they want to test.
If an effect does indeed exist and it is large enough to be measured....
Then an article should be written and published.

Lots and lots of folks have great ideas, and many pan out to be true.
Some are even useful.
That has not yet happened with this idea, perhaps there was no real news today at all. No other reason to publish this non story.

Jul 29, 2019
They found a 9-degree difference in initial testing. If that isn't enough of a result for you, perhaps you shouldn't be reading articles on this site.

Jul 30, 2019
No other reason to publish this non story.

The reason to publish this science article, not a story, is obvious since this is a web site publishing mostly press releases or articles about science. And there was science done, from the abstract: "We used three methods to test the impact of colour on wing surface temperature."

But you cannot know that if you are not interested in partaking of the science in the first place.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more