Facts of flight

Blog 8
April 25, 2021

Have you ever seen a flapping sparrow, a gliding seagull, or a soaring hawk?

What do their wings have in common?

You might notice long feathers, short feathers, dark colors, or light colors.

What is different about their wings?

One main difference is their wing shape! Since birds live in many different environments, birds come in all shapes and sizes with wings that are adapted for their survival needs and habitat.

There are four general types of wing shapes that are common in many birds. Let’s take a look at them!

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Passive Soaring wings:

What does soaring mean? It’s when you can fly for a long time without flapping your wings!

These wings have long, broad feathers that spread out to make “slots” that let the bird catch rising warm air (called “thermals”) which pushes them up higher in the sky.

Common birds with this wing type include: eagles, many species of hawks, cranes, and vultures. Since these birds are so large, it would take a lot of energy for them to fly by flapping their wings a lot. By “riding the thermals” they can fly high, or circle their prey, while conserving their energy.

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Active Soaring wings, or Gliding wings:

These wings are long and narrow and also allow birds to soar easily. These birds are more dependent on the different wind currents than the passive soaring birds (above). Many of these birds live near large bodies of water, or migrate long distances over water, where there are strong, constant winds. This wing shape lets them travel very far without using a lot of energy and getting tired.

Common types of birds with this wing type include: gulls, albatrosses, and gannets. Airplanes also use this wing shape!

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Elliptical wings, or Flapping wings:

These wings are good for short bursts of high speed, and involve a lot of flapping when flying. Birds with this wing shape can take off and land quickly, and can perform tight turns and aerobatics. This lets them catch small quick prey like bugs, or to easily dodge a larger bird (such as a hawk) trying to catch them!

Common birds with this wing type include: robins, sparrows, crows, and blackbirds.

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High-speed wings:

These wings help a bird move very fast for a long period of time. The wing shape is long and thin, but shorter than the gliding wings. Birds with this wing shape often hunt their food in the air—they can dive and swoop quickly to catch prey.

Common birds with this wing type include: falcons, swifts, swallows, and terns.

Take a look at the birds below. Can you guess what wing type they have? Why do you think they have that wing shape? What kind of habitat do you think they live in, and what lifestyle do they have?





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