Vane macrostructure of primary feathers and its adaptations to flight in birds

Péter L. Pap, Orsolya Vincze, Csongor I. Vágási, Zsuzsa Salamon, Andrea Pándi, Blanka Bálint, Andreas Nord, Robert L. Nudds, Gergely Osváth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The selection pressures that drive flight feather morphology are poorly understood. Using a phylogenetic comparative approach and data from 178 species of birds, we investigated whether both position along the wing length and flight feather length affected vane structure. We found that barb density was lower on distal primaries than on proximal primaries of the leading feather vane. In contrast, on the trailing vane only mid-point barb density differed and, here, it showed denser barbs on the distal primaries. This difference was greater at the feather base than at the tip. Barb angle was higher along the full length of the leading edge vane on the proximal primaries than on the distal primaries. Overall, barb density decreased from base to tip on both trailing and leading vanes on both the proximal and the distal primaries. In general, barb angle was less acute at the feather base than at the tip. Barbs were in general denser in continuous flapping fliers than in soarers and the angle of barbs on both the proximal and the distal primaries was affected by flight type. However, we did not identify consistent differences in the pattern of barb angle change among flight style groups. These findings add new perspectives to our understanding of the functional morphology of the flight feather vane, although we still have limited knowledge on how aerodynamic forces, particularly during take-off and landing, affect the morphology of the feather vane.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)256-267
Number of pages12
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number2
Early online date7 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jan 2019


  • barb angle
  • barb density
  • feather vane
  • flight
  • flight feathers
  • functional morphology


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