Hawk in Flight

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For a little more than century, mankind has taken flight in fixed-wing aircraft. But other species have flown for much longer using flapping techniques, the details of which humans are still unraveling. To really appreciate flapping flight, it helps to have high-speed video, like this beautiful footage of a goshawk attacking a water balloon. The motion of the hawk’s wings is far more complex than the simple up and down flapping we imitate as children. On the downstroke, the wings and tail stretch to their fullest, providing as large an area as possible for lift. During steady flight, the bird flaps while almost horizontal for minimal drag, but as it approaches its target, it rears back, allowing the downstroke to both lift and slow the bird. In the upstroke, the bird needs to avoid generating negative lift by pushing air upward. To do this, it pulls its wings in and simultaneously rotates them back and up. Its tail feathers are also pulled in but to a lesser extent. Leaving them partially spread probably maintains some positive lift and provides stability. At the end of the upstroke, the hawk’s wings are ready to stretch again, and so the cycle continues. (Video credit: Earth Unplugged/BBC; h/t to io9)

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