DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2023.0442 ISSN: 1742-5662

How birds dissipate heat before, during and after flight

Agnès Lewden, Charles M. Bishop, Graham N. Askew
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomaterials
  • Bioengineering
  • Biophysics
  • Biotechnology

Animal flight uses metabolic energy at a higher rate than any other mode of locomotion. A relatively small proportion of the metabolic energy is converted into mechanical power; the remainder is given off as heat. Effective heat dissipation is necessary to avoid hyperthermia. In this study, we measured surface temperatures in lovebirds ( Agapornis personatus ) using infrared thermography and used heat transfer modelling to calculate heat dissipation by convection, radiation and conduction, before, during and after flight. The total non-evaporative rate of heat dissipation in flying birds was 12× higher than before flight and 19× higher than after flight. During flight, heat was largely dissipated by forced convection, via the exposed ventral wing areas, resulting in lower surface temperatures compared with birds at rest. When perched, both before and after exercise, the head and trunk were the main areas involved in dissipating heat. The surface temperature of the legs increased with flight duration and remained high on landing, suggesting that there was an increase in the flow of warmer blood to this region during and after flight. The methodology developed in this study to investigate how birds thermoregulate during flight could be used in future studies to assess the impact of climate change on the behavioural ecology of birds, particularly those species undertaking migratory flights.

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