Designed to Fly

In the last blog (last photo), I posted a photo of an Osprey carrying a fish. It was lunchtime on the Elizabeth. That fish, caught in the waters just off Money Point in Chesapeake, VA, that former Elizabeth River “dead zone,” appeared to weigh about as much as the Osprey. Heck, it likely weighed more! Here’s another picture of the same bird a few wing beats–and a few burned calories–down the flight path. “Down the road” just wouldn’t apply.

Osprey in flight with fish
Osprey in flight

Aerodynamics and Bird Flight

I mentioned in “More Shoutouts” that Ospreys carry fish head first to minimize drag (or air resistance). Well, birds taken as a whole are built to minimize drag. And birds taken as a whole are designed to fly. Consider for a moment this duck in flight. Ducks are superb flyers.

I captured this female Mallard duck off Inland Rd. in Chesapeake a few months ago. This photograph is a study in aerodynamics.

Female Mallard in flight
Female Mallard

Note the shape, including the wedge shape of the bill and head (not unlike the wedge shape of the nose of a plane or a car). Note the smooth surfaces, including on the leading edges of the wings (you can see those closely here). Note those big webbed toes neatly tucked in in the rear to eliminate any drag there.

Another thing to notice here is that the wings are in a down-stroke. And all the flight feathers are closed. The down-stroke, the closed flight feathers, and the shape and smoothness of a bird’s body all contribute to keeping a bird aloft and moving forward on a more or less straight flight path.

For comparison, here’s a photo I posted earlier of another flying female Mallard with its wings in an up-stroke. Note that some of the flight feathers are open. This allows air to pass through as the wings are moving up. The open feathers also help to minimize drag.

Female Mallard in flight
Female Mallard

The Marvel of Bird Flight

I was reminded of a bird’s wonderful ability to fly recently. Now here’s the story part. (I mentioned in the previous blog that we usually include a story.) Early in the morning of 10/19, and as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service volunteer, I helped out with the translocation of two endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers from a preserve in South Carolina to the Great Dismal Swamp in Chesapeake, VA. I’ve mentioned the return of RCW’s to the Great Dismal Swamp (also known as “Operation Woodpecker”) in a previous blog, “Starlings on Prozac.” Please see “A Cautionary Tale.”

I worked that morning with Fletcher Smith, a biologist at the Center for Conservation Biology, and Bob Ake, a retired ODU chemistry professor. We released a hatch-year male and female that had been brought there the previous night. Each had been placed in an artificial cavity and behind a secured screen in neighboring pond pine trees. I released the female. Bob released the male.

When I released the female (here’s a video clip complete with the countdown of a recent release there), she hesitated for a moment, but then bolted, making me think of a bullet exiting a gun barrel. The sheer marvel of flight. The sheer ease of flight. Bob’s bird was released at the same time. I’m sure he’d describe his bird’s exit in the same way. After the birds’ release, they quickly found each other, flew around, foraged, and called. Here’s my Red-cockaded Woodpecker recording. Please click on the audio icon in the upper left corner, then enter “Red-cockaded Woodpecker” in the search box.

I wrote in a Mattresses, Shoes, and Binoculars about being wonderstruck watching birds. I was wonderstruck that morning. Can birds be considered exuberant? Well, these two certainly seemed to be.

Birds Are Determined

If I may…think about the above question and answer for a moment. Now set all that exuberance against the following. These young birds had just been removed from their natal homes. They’d just been transported at night to a new home miles away. And—they are members of a federally listed endangered species. So what explains the birds’ exuberance? Here are more words from the above blog: Birds are “determined to live and to thrive no matter what. Habitat loss, contaminated water, soil degradation, who cares?”

Since we’re touching on bird flight (or we were)–here’s a photo of a Great Egret taking off from a bare tree limb at Money Point.

Great Egret launching from a tree limb
Great Egret

Like the first Mallard above, its wings are in a down-stroke to help it stay aloft and move forward. I’ll provide a few before and after photos of this bird in the next blog. We’ll also continue to talk about flight there.

And This Just In

First…how about those Boston Red Sox, winners of the 2018 World Series? Serious kudos to David Price, my WS MVP, and the one who pitched the Red Sox to the title.
And kudos, too, to Glenn Butler, a Master Arborist friend, and a guy who birds Paradise Creek Nature Park in Portsmouth every chance he can get. He wrote this to me earlier: “I haven’t seen any migratory birds at the park yet in September, but the wax myrtles look full of berries and poised to feed the flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers soon to appear.” Well, it’s late October now, and Glenn had 50 at the park just the other day. A good number have also shown up at Money Point in Chesapeake, where there is also a wax myrtle crop. Money Point also just played host to the area’s first Wilson’s Snipe. And Savannah Sparrows continue there in good numbers. I had eight there the other day. Money Point has prime Savannah Sparrow habitat. Good grassland habitat as exists there is disappearing fast.




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