Flight Adaptations

Birds are endowed with certain physical features that enable them to fly. Those physical factors are the flight adaptation in birds that goes beyond just feathers and wings. The various physical factors in birds include the combination of lightweight and strength.

When considering what are the adaptations for flight in birds, two types of adaptations will have to be examined – 

  • Anatomical adaptations 

  • Morphological adaptations 

Read on to know more about aerial adaptation in birds. 

Anatomical Adaptations 

Flight mechanism in birds exhibit nine kinds of anatomical adaptations –

  1. Flight muscles

Flights muscles are striated and vascularised that are able to adjust fatigue. It controls action of wings, and the muscles weigh only one-sixth of the entire body.  

  1. Reproductive organs

Reproductive organs in birds do not add much to the body weight. There is only one functional ovary on the left-side of female birds. 

  1. Endoskeleton 

The skull bones are very thin, and there is absence of teeth in birds. Dorsal part of vertebral column is rigid, and the breast bone or sternum attaches the flight muscles.

  1. Sense organs 

Cerebellum in brain is developed, leading to muscular coordination. Large cerebrum helps with voluntary movements. Optic lobes are enhanced.

  1. Digestive system 

Birds have a very high metabolism rate leading to a minimum generation of undigested waste. Also, the absence of gallbladder reduces body weight.

  1. Excretory system 

Semi-solid waste is immediately excreted, and nitrogenous wastes are converted into less-toxic forms. Absence of urinary bladder substantially reduces body weight. 

  1. Respiratory system 

Presence of air sacs reduce specific gravity, and higher metabolism rate infuses oxygen in body tissues to a much greater extent.

  1. Warm blood 

Even with differences in environmental temperature during flight, aeration of blood helps to retain high body temperature. 

  1. Circulatory system 

Four-chambered heart contributes to an efficient circulatory system. Further deoxygenated and oxygenated blood remains separate owing to double circulation. 

Morphological Adaptations 

There are seven morphological factors enabling flight adaptation in birds. 

  1. Compact body

The body is heavy ventrally, and light dorsally and its spindle shape reduces air resistance during flight.

  1. Forelimbs converted to wings 

Wings in birds are specific organs of flight. Forelimbs in the anterior part of the body transform into wings. 

  1. Feather covered body 

Body covered with feathers makes it streamlined, reducing air friction significantly. Birds also remain protected from fluctuation in environmental temperature. 

  1. Bipedal locomotion 

The hind limbs in birds help in locomotion on ground as well as to provide support to its weight. 

  1. Mobility of head and neck 

Flexibility in head movement helps in preening, defence and nest building. The horny beak also acts as forceps. 

  1. Short tail 

During flight, short tail acts as a rudder. It also helps in counterbalancing, lifting and steering. 

Do You Know?

Male quetzals, during mating season, grow a long train of tail feathers. The tail can even grow up to one metre long. Due to such a long tail, male quetzals have to tilt backwards while preparing a flight from a tree branch. Otherwise, its long train of the tail might rip into shreds!

  1. Perching 

Perching mechanism in birds helps in arboreal life. The spontaneous bent of toes helps in clinging to branches as well as collect twigs.  

Test Your Knowledge 

i. Which of the following evolutionary adaptation helps in mechanism of bird flight?

(a) Rapid digestion 

(b) Hollow bones 

(c) Beaks 

(d) All of these

ii. Which of the following birds can actually fly backwards?

(a) Hummingbird

(b) Warbler

(c) Heron

(d) Flycatcher

[To check your answer, see the solution mentioned at the end of the article]

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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Give two structural adaptations in the birds for flight.

Lightweight body and feathers providing insulation are instances of two structural adaptations of birds for flight.

2. What are the features that help a bird to fly?

Flight muscles of birds, flexible movement of head along with rigidity and lightness of endoskeleton are among many features that help a bird to fly.

3. What helps birds to fly?

There are multiple anatomical and morphological adaptations that help in flight of birds. Few anatomical adaptations include a high rate of metabolism and warm-bloodedness. Some morphological adaptations are - feather-covered body and perching.


i. (d) All of these

ii. (a) Hummingbird