Supplementary material from "Behavioural adaptations to flight into thin air"
Published on 2016-10-18T10:56:05Z (GMT) by
Soaring raptors can fly at high altitudes of up to 9000m. The behavioural adjustments to high-altitude flights are largely unknown. We studied thermalling flights of Himalayan vultures (<i>Gyps himalayensis</i>) from 50 to 6500m above sea level, a twofold range of air densities. To create the necessary lift to support the same weight and maintain soaring flight in thin air birds might modify lift coefficient by biophysical changes, such as wing posture and increasing the power expenditure. Alternatively, they can change their flight characteristics. We show that vultures use the latter and increase circle radius by 35% and airspeed by 21% over their flight altitude range. These simple behavioural adjustments enable vultures to move seamlessly during their annual migrations over the Himalaya without increasing energy output to flight in high elevations.