How Bird Wings Work (Compared to Airplane Wings) – Smarter Every Day 62
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How Bird Wings Work (Compared to Airplane Wings) – Smarter Every Day 62

August 9, 2019

[music] Hey it’s me Destin welcome back to Smarter Every Day. So some of my favorite things to learn are those things that I’ve seen for several years and I’ve made a lot of observations and I kind of think I get it, you know. I mean, like really get it. And then I find out, I don’t. So when I first saw what I’m about to show you, it blew my mind because it was so simple I should have seen it my entire life but I didn’t. Look at this bird. The muscle that flaps the wing is here toward the center, and he pushes down on the wing. But the feathers going out towards the edge of the wing are overlapping in such a way that they all push together on the down-stroke, but on the back stroke they delaminate, allowing them to open up like louvers and allowing the wind to pass through them. This means there’s a lot less resistance on the back stroke. Basically this bird wing is a biomechanical check valve. That’s amazing. I’ve never thought about that, but I saw it in the high speed video in Peru on the macaws for the first time. This is why I’ve never seen it. Look how fast it happens. There’s no way I could have observed that. But watch the macaws on high speed and you can see for yourself, clearly the feathers are delaminating on the back stroke. On the down stroke you can see that all the feathers overlap in such a way that they provide a firm boundary layer that air can’t pass, but on the up stroke look what happens. You can see that the wing separates and the feathers turn so that the air is flowing straight in between them. You can even see straight through the wing. I think that’s amazing, so he has a lot less resistance on the back stroke than he does the down stroke. Another thing he does to decrease this resistance on the back stroke is he’s performing more of an elliptical sweep with his wings instead of just an up and down flap. So what he’s doing is, on the back stroke he’s pulling that wing in, and he’s decreasing the length so he decreases the surface area of the total wing. That’s pretty awesome as well. So one of the coolest misconceptions I had is pretty clear to see on this red macaw. I used to think that birds just flap down and they create high pressure underneath them and they push themselves up. But if you look at this macaw something else is happening. Look at the back of his wing here. You can see that the feathers are being lifted up on the down stroke. What that means is we have a low pressure situation there. It’s like in engineering when we use something called computational fluid dynamics. Basically what we do is we analyze the flow field and we figure out what pressure situations we have at each location. Now you know that on an airplane wing we have a low pressure situation on top. That’s exactly what’s happening with this red macaw. So look at his wing and you can see that not only does he have a high pressure situation on the bottom, but the low pressure is so great that it’s pulling those feathers off of his wing. That’s amazing. So not only is he pushing down but he’s being pulled up on the same stroke. That’s pretty awesome. Now this green parrot’s doing the last thing that I thought was pretty wild. If you notice he is angling the tips of his wings on the back stroke and pushing back behind him, so he’s providing thrust, but one thing that’s happening that I don’t really understand but it looks like it could be true, he’s breaking his wing in half between the secondary and primary feathers, and he’s angling it and it looks like he’s diverting that flow down, almost like a vertical take off Harrier jet. It’s pretty cool, and I think it could be happening, but I’ve never actually thought about a bird being able to provide downward thrust on a backward stroke. That’s pretty wild. So I thought I knew how flapping flight works but clearly I didn’t. Send this to any of your buddies that like to think critically cause they’ll do what I do now. Every time I see a bird against the sky I watch his wing and on the down stroke right at that point where he’s pausing to transition back to an up stroke if you watch you can see sunlight pop in between the feathers because he’s opened it up for lower air resistance on the back stroke, and I think that’s awesome because now I know how bird flight works. Anyway I’m Destin, you’re getting Smarter Every Day and I’ll leave you with this picture that my daughter made by gluing homing pigeon feathers to a piece of paper to create her own bird. You’re getting Smarter Every Day. Have a good one. We are in the middle of a cotton field in Alabama. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a really pretty sight. And what are we gonna do here son?
– Let this bird go. – We – We’re gonna let this bird go, but before we let the bird go, we’re gonna talk about his feathers, aren’t we. [ Captions by Andrew Jackson ]
Captioning in different languages welcome.
Please contact Destin if you can help.

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  1. Wow, I never knew! This is amazing! Also very fascinating because I'm a pc flight sim'er

  2. As a child I used to watch the birds come out to play every fall when the storms would hit in the pacific northwest. Winds would gust up to 50 mph and the birds would "fly" against the wind flapping full speed and not make any ground, then tilt their wings and catch enough air to shoot them backwards. They would repeat the process as if playing a game. At about the same time in life, I would have my arm out the window and use my hand to plane the wind aerodynamically, and by twisting my arm just a bit, my hand would catch more air and at a certain point, catapult my hand backwards. This was fun.
    I imagine if you watch the birds long enough you will see that some are more gifted "athletes" than others. You'll even see different body types. While I totally agree with SED on the information shared, I find it more surprising that SED found it as surprising as he seemed. What I find to be of more interest is, if indeed monkeys fall out of trees, would it be possible to see a parrot crash land? Not to see an animal in pain, but rather to prove if miscalculations can also exist when the birds use their……nature-produced abilities.

  3. awesome video.. I just started studying mechanical engineering and honestly your videos make it look a lot more interesting than the courses I take

  4. Churpitture.kid's from all around the globe…firstly a power division(engines/aviation wise)straight lines/hovers!etc.a bird leaps for the flight to etc.the air or wind flow supports the time suited of travel.etc.various prey gathers types required.etc.concludes tho a of how still a bird sticks when stationery.possibly that of not stupid buy seeking coverage(tree's etc)or with standing the groundage by grinding out conditions for unambiguous to a human.the flow filtered through feathers gracefully?to soar is the correct spec towards the flight of a bird(flight of the Concorde is a show.couldn't land at certain airports)myths of air creatures describes the likely hood or habitat culturally traditionally historically theory speaks as land travellers(phonectia) easy.

  5. Hey Destin. Something you may have missed in your bird flight observations. Notice how the primaries twist on the downstroke, so that the upper surface faces partly forward. Air moving past these primaries as they stroke down creates lift, but a vector of this lift is directed forward. This is more important in maintaining forward motion than any backward directed push of air in the downstroke is.

  6. That’s gnarly. But I’ve never seen someone casually whip out a bird like that. And thank you for letting the bird go and not clipping his wings.

  7. Destin, the lift on the back stroke of the green parrot makes sense and is entirely possible when you consider that when hummingbirds hover, they get lift from both forward and backward wing beats.

  8. I’m lowkey impressed by myself because my biggest obsession is wings. Any type of wings. And I obviously know a lot about wings and I was surprised that the only new thing I learned here was the overlapping and separating feathers, and the downwards push while the upstroke (I don’t know how to rexplain that sorry)

    Otherwise I loved it! Thanks!!!!

  9. Shouldnt hold a bird by Its chest!!! (This sounds wrong but meh..) you need to hold by its neck! Look it up if you dont belive me!

  10. Great video but please, next time you hold a live bird, don't grip it around the chest. Birds' ribcages need to expand in order for birds to breathe. Doves are incredibly docile normally but you can tell this one is in distress because it can't get any air. Just a heads-up.

  11. Hey Destin, you should look at the Bee Humming Bird. It hovers by pushing air down on both the front and back stroke. At least, I think that's right. Would be amazing to see one of those in slow mo.

  12. & they said no one created all these things. ..I wonder how something that was well thought wasn't created…just boom bang appears in such engineered way. WoW . there has to be someone behind it all ..

  13. I don't know about other birds but pigeons primary wing feathers ,ten on each side , are actually individual wings them selves. On the down stroke lock together and on the(back) up stroke unlock to provide continuous lift. If you watch a pigeon take off the do not lose any altitude as the wings sweep backwards the continue to go up . They are even more amazing than you know. Being pray for everything They Have adapted into the most amazing masters of flight . Homing pigeons can have average speeds of 60mph over hundreds of miles nothing comes close . They are the true masters of the air.

  14. Do you like somebody to tie you up, and show you to the crowd while he is explaining how human organs work?
    If you dont like that, so does the bird

  15. This is gonna help with my flying project a lot…

    I promise not to sue you if I break every bone in my body by trying to fly.

  16. Hello Destin, thank you for the knowledge. I have a question for you: If some insects, some mammals and some birds can fly, would some people be able to fly by their own muscles power with the wrigth wing-suit ? My answer is yes and I am doing this project

  17. they have wings which can function like a helicopter blade AND like the  stiff wings of an aerofoil, reciprocally and  quickly

  18. now you know how feathers and wings   work- so you can make your Daedalus wings and jump off the roof at the parking garage

  19. Why don't birds use the return stroke also to create thrust, like in swimming using a flipper on the foot or a like a Chinese folding fan.
    And are the birds changing their body direction to direct the thrust for lift and then thrust for forward flight, assuming that they generate thrust only backwards relative to their body ?

  20. I was sure this had to be the case; brainstorming about having wings for human flight, it occurs that the wings must slice through the air on the backstroke, same as our body does naturally whilst treading water.

  21. This would be amazing to see Hummingbird wings reacting the same way… I'll have to search for that.

  22. Hey Destin, I thought you noticed that delamination of the feathers in one of your previous videos….. “the bird take off”. Glad I noticed that?. So your videos and other science channels are changing my perspective ?

  23. We continue to learn more about complex flight from watching the birds. Check out some of the latest NASA studies on complex wing designs.

  24. I fly. Paraglider. And would love to developed a flapping technique that will enable me to gain altitude. I do a flap process when landing but it is to reduce my forward speed to do as birds do. Not able to life the wing up and vent air from above through the wing but will keep watching for development of the sport.

  25. On another video I commented how impossible it is for any application of the theory of evolution to explain the smallest of creatures' design! The DNA that defines every creature by internal design every cell contains has no possible origin outside pre-determined purpose for each creature. There's no exception, either!

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