Further affects of air resistance on small birds

For small birds the drag produced by their wings has a bigger effect than just the flex of their wings, it effects their whole pattern of flight, below a certain size, birds will abandon a conventional flap/glide pattern and instead flap in short bursts, then pull their wings in completely for a time. This is called a bounding flight pattern. The small bird will still glide but only when it wishes to decelerate thus using the drag its wings produce. Here is an example of bounding flight -

Each dot on this graph represents a species of bird, the larger crosses represent the birds which use a bounding flight pattern. We can see that as a rule, a bird whose mass is below 100g will tent to adopt bounding flight instead of a flap/glide pattern.

bounding bird graph

And these diagrams show the different paths of the bird (yellow) and the wing tips (orange) of the two flight patterns. Flap-gliding flight path (left) and flap-bounding flight path (right).

flap glidebounding flight pattern

I've started experimenting with this idea for the character of Gylfie I believe it may be a interesting way to accentuate her small size.

As with many aspects of bird flight, few things are black and white. An interesting blend between the two flight patterns is used by this cockatiel. It doesn't bound as such, instead flexes it's wings and uses an accentuated up-stroke

Also I wouldn't use hummingbirds as reference for small bird flight unless it is specifically a humming bird you're animating, they way they fly is quite unique to them and not all that relevant to owls and other bird flight.

So, in summary to show a bird's scale I would look to the following variables

* flap speed - a smaller bird has a faster flap cycle
* up/down humerus ratio - large birds have more frames in the down-stroke than the up-stroke, the smaller a bird is, the more even this ratio will be.
* the range of the wings in their up and down poses is greater in smaller birds
* the smaller a bird is the more it will fold it's wings on the up-stroke
* when a bird gets below a certain size it will cease flap/gliding and adopt a bounding flight pattern

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