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Young birds must master the right wing angles to become good fliers, according to new research that may shed light on the origins of flight itself.
Kenneth Dial of the University of Montana and colleagues have previously documented how birds can run up vertical trees, boulders, or cliffs by angling their wings to create wind force that holds them to the surface. Now his team has discovered that the secret of this behavior, and flight itself, begins with learning the optimal wing-to-ground angle needed to generate force. It appears that both young and adult birds use the same angle for many types of locomotion leading up to level flight. The research, published in the current issue of the journal Nature, is an important addition to studies of living bird behavior, experts say. Kevin Padian, an expert on the origins of flight at the University of California, Berkeley, said the work is of tremendous importance for flight theory. Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. A selection of portraits from Photo Ark, a project to document the world's animals before they disappear. Status: Least ConcernThe strong claws of the Guianan cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola rupicola) enable it to nest on rocky Andean cliffs.
Status: Critically EndangeredThe largest flying bird in North America, the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) has a wingspan of nearly ten feet.
Status: Least ConcernThe naturally adorned face of the spectacled owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata) can be seen from southern Mexico to Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina.
Status: Least ConcernThe red and green pigments of the red-crested turaco (Tauraco erythrolophus) contain copper. Status: Least ConcernA colorfully shiny species of starling, the purple glossy starling (Lamprotornis purpureus) inhabits northern African savannas and woodlands. Status: Least ConcernWith an ability to remain submerged longer than most diving ducks, the spectacled eider (Somateria fischeri) also forages on the summer tundra by dabbling in shallow water or walking on land for insects and grasses. Status: Near Threatened The beak of the Javan rhinoceros hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros silvestris) lends it a likeness to the horned land mammal. Status: Least ConcernThe smallest of the penguins, little penguins (Eudyptula minor) stand just ten inches tall, with white bellies and slate-blue plumage on their backs. Status: Least ConcernAmong New World vultures, only the king vulture (Sarcoramphus papa), pictured here, and the Andean condor have these elaborate skin folds and fleshy wattles.
Status: Least ConcernThe purple-banded sunbird (Nectarinia bifasciata) prefers the coastal bush habitats, mangroves, and lowland evergreen forests of southern Africa. Status: Least ConcernLook closely to see the pink ear of the pink-eared duck (Malacorhynchus membranaceus). Status: EndangeredThe orange air sac on the neck of the male Attwater’s prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus cupido attwateri) delivers a powerful booming sound during mating season heard a half-mile around.
The National Geographic Photo Ark is a multi-year effort with photographer Joel Sartore to photograph all captive species and save these animals before many disappear. Fueled only by the sun glinting off its enormous wings, the Swiss experimental aircraft Solar Impulse aims for a historic intercontinental flight. The unique silhouette of the experimental aircraft Solar Impulse soars above Rabat, Morocco, just before landing to complete an unprecedented intercontinental journeya€”without fuel tanks. Powered only by the sun above its wings, Solar Impulse soared to heights of 27,000 feet (8,229 meters) while en route to Morocco, where its international journey ended.
The Solar Impulse aircraft stands on the airfield in Payerne, Switzerland before a test flight last year. A record-breaking journey began when Solar Impulse took off from an airfield in Payerne, Switzerland, en route to Madrid, Spain, on May 24. Much like the aviation pioneers of the early 20th century, the pilots of the Solar Impulse must wait for the right weather. The carbon-fiber Solar Impulse aircraft has an enormous 200-foot (61-meter) wingspana€”similar to that of an Airbus A340.Yet it's ultralight, weighing only about as much as an average automobile (3,525 pounds or 1,600 kilograms). Rammos Lyssandre, an aircraft designer who interned with Solar Impulse for his master's thesis in 2008, tests one of Solar Impulse's four propellers. Bertrand Piccard tests a virtual flight simulator in which he spent 25 straight hours preparing to pilot Solar Impulse on future long-distance flights without liquid fuel.Solar aviation launched in the early 1980s when experimental flights first crossed the English Channel and then stretched out to distances of several hundred kilometers. Solar Impulse prepares to land in Brussels, Belgium, at the tail end of its first international flight in May 2011. Solar Impulse, an unusual entrant in the race for green transportation, takes to the skies above Payerne, Switzerland, on May 24. Extinct in Stockholm less than a century ago, the rebounding rodent is damaging the city's treesa€”and at the same time charming locals. Peek at Jupiter through binoculars and you should also see its icy moon Europa, thought to host a global ocean that may support life.
Baya weavers are found across S and SE Asia, and prefer grasslands, cultivated areas, scrub and secondary growth. Crimson-backed sunbirds are endemic to the Western Ghats of India, and are attracted to gardens at the edge of the forest where people grow suitable flower bearing plants. White-cheeked barbets are endemic to the forested areas of the Western Ghats and Shevaroy and Chitteri hills. Oriental dwarf kingfisher are widespread resident breeders in lowland forests and are found across much of the Indian Subcontinent and SE Asia, and are found in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Crimson sunbirds are resident breeders in tropical S Asia from India to Indonesia, preferring secondary forest and cultivation. Northern or black crowned cranes are found in the Sahel and Sudan savanna region of Africa, from Senegal and Gambia on the Atlantic coast to the upper Nile River basin in Sudan and Ethiopia.

African fish eagles are distributed throughout SubSaharan Africa wherever there is abundant fish stocks. Giant kingfishers are the largest kingfisher in Africa and are distributed along rivers, lagoons, coastlines and lakes throughout SubSaharan Africa. Tristram’s starlings are distributed across Israel, Jordan, NE Egypt (Sinai Peninsula), W Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman, preferring to nest on rocky cliff faces. Indian golden orioles are partially migratory and breed in India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Nepal, preferring open deciduous forests, semi-evergreen forests, woodland, forest edge, mangroves, open country with scattered trees, parks, gardens orchards and plantations. Rose-crowned fruit doves are distributed in lowland rainforests of E Australia and the monsoon forests of N Australia, Lesser Sunda Islands and Maluku Islands of Indonesia. Nilgiri laughing thrushes are endemic to the high elevation areas of the Nilgiris and adjoining hill ranges in Peninsular India and are easily detected by its loud series of nasal call notes.
Spotted owlets are resident breeders in tropical Asia from India to SE Asia, preferring farmland and human habitation where they have adapted to roosting in small groups in the hollows of trees or in cavities in rocks or buildings. Grey francolins are found in the open plains and drier regions of S Asia, preferring open cultivated lands and scrub forest. Oriental skylarks are found in the Indian Subcontinent and SE Asia, preferring open grasslands near waterbodies where seeds and insects are more abundant. Painted storks are distributed across tropical Asia S of the Himalayas in the Indian Subcontinent and extending into SE Asia, foraging in large flocks in shallow waters along rivers or lakes. Common kingfishers are widely distributed across Eurasia and N Africa, migrating only from areas where rivers freeze in winter.
Oriental white eyes are resident breeder in the open woodlands of tropical Asia from the Indian Subcontinent to SE Asia, extending to Indonesia and Malaysia.
Vernal hanging parrots are resident breeders on the Indian Subcontinent and areas of SE Asia.
Shoebills are distributed in freshwater swamps and wetlands of central tropical Africa from S Sudan through parts of E Congo, N Zambia, Rwanda, Uganda and W Tanzania. Green bee-eaters are widely distributed across the N part of sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal and the Gambia in the W to Ethiopia and the Nile valley in the E, continuing to W Arabia and Asia from India all the way to Vietnam. Southern carmine bee-eaters are found across sub-equatorial Africa from KwaZulu-Natal Province in South Africa to Namibia and Gabon, the E Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya. Three-banded plovers are found in most of E and S Africa, as wel as Madagascar, preferring inland rivers, pools and lakes where they can find insects, worms and other invertebrates. White-throated kingfishers are widely distributed in Eurasia from Bulgaria, Turkey, West Asia all th way E through the Indian Subcontinent to the Philippines. National Geographic explorers have been using planes, helicopters, drones, and more to explore their world for more than a hundred years. Meave Leakey and her daughter, Louise (pictured here), couldn’t do their work with human fossils in the remote Turkana Basin without a plane to get them there. While most botanists might choose to capture plant life from ground level, Mark Olson, pictured here, has his eye on the sky. In his search for hidden artifacts and indicators of ancient civilization in Jordan's Khirbat Faynan, Tom Levy used new cyber-archaeology methods that included large-scale 3-D modeling, onsite chemical characterization tools, and this special helium balloon for geo-referenced digital photography.
Dereck and Beverly Joubert use planes and helicopters to capture photographs and film of leopards, lions, and other African wildlife. On May 9, 1926, radio waves around the world hummed with the news that American naval pilot Richard Evelyn Byrd had just flown a three-engine Fokker monoplane over the North Pole, becoming the first man to reach it by air. Albert Lin in 2010 and 2011 conducted a noninvasive survey in the region of the lost tomb of Genghis Khan.
In 1932 the National Geographic Society awarded its Special Medal to Amelia Earhart, the first woman to make a solo transatlantic crossing.
National Geographic photographer and explorer George Steinmetz has had many adventures in a motorized paraglider—essentially a motor with a parachute that allows him to shoot photos from as low as 30 feet and as high as 6,500 feet. Alexander Graham Bell, President of the National Geographic Society from 1897 to 1904, watches the first flight of a wheel-shaped kite he designed.
At the heart of our explorers program is the quest for knowledge through exploration and the people who make it possible. Browse our different areas of exploration and discover the fascinating people behind the projects. Babies master 60-degree slopes the day they hatch, and they tackle steeper challenges during the vulnerable period before they reach level flight. Feeding mostly on fruit, the bird is important to its environment as the seeds are passed through its digestive tract and scattered on the ground. A captive-breeding program is slowly restoring the species, its numbers reduced to a few dozen by egg poaching and poisons in the 1970s. The abundant bird has been spotted at elevations as high as 4,000 feet but mainly lives in lower lands.
In flight, its black wings curve toward its head while its white tail feathers with a semicircle of black spread out like a fan. They tend to return to the same breeding site year after year, and juveniles often head back there to breed.
The plumage, uniformly dark in most species, is exclusively gold, black, and white-patterned on the king. Blue waxbills (Uraeginthus angolensis) form pairs within small flocks in Southern Africa, and they tend to sleep next to their mates on perches. The subspecies is endangered by the plowing of its tallgrass prairie habitat and cattle grazing. The team said that the flight was made "under the patronage" of Morocco's King Mohammed VI, and by invitation of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN).

Solar flying takes patience and a wait for favorable conditions, but the team had confidence that the skies would be right for its late-spring history journey."Weather isn't a reliable science but we always find a window," Solar Impulse spokesperson Alexandra Gindroz said. The aircraft is seen here in April 2011 at its hangar in Payerne, Switzerland."You know the airplane is very light and very sensitive to turbulence and strong winds," Gindroz said. Almost 12,000 silicon solar cells, most arrayed on the aircraft's wings, drive four electric motors that can turn the plane's propellers day or night thanks to power-storing batteries. The plane's batteries store solar energy to make night flight possible but they also presented one of the aircraft's great engineering challenges.
In 1990, the Sunseeker crossed the United States in a series of almost two dozen stages, the longest of which was 250 miles (400 km).Unmanned drones have already achieved some stunning solar successes as well. Borschberg and his partner, fellow Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard, spent seven years designing the aircraft.
Some 17 hours later the sun-powered plane had traversed the Pyrennees and landed in Madrid without consuming a drop of fuel or creating any emissions. They appear singly or in small groups, but breed in large heronries in trees near reedbeds. Meave elaborates on their early years of flying together: “We’ve always had an airplane associated with the project. Since plants collect light for photosynthesis from above, Olson has used a powered paraglider to gain an aerial perspective of dry tropics in Mexico, seeking an understanding of why a given plant has a particular shape. Through a collection of photographs taken with his kite camera in 2010, Anand Varma (pictured here) set out to document the mallines and, by illustrating their beauty and biodiversity, communicate the importance of protecting the landscape from urban development and agriculture. The tools helped the archaeologists paint a detailed picture of what this abandoned city would have looked like as long as 4,700 years ago.
Dereck explains how aircrafts improve the duo’s efficiency: “The truth is, if I didn't fly my own plane I would not have been able to get us into places in Botswana that are truly amazing.
Taking off from a base in Spitsbergen, Norway, he apparently made the round-trip in 16 hours, narrowly winning a race with the dirigible Norge, piloted by Roald Amundsen, which crossed the Pole on the way to Alaska on May 13.
Essential to the research were the images that came back from a microcopter—here being launched by a member of the team—that was deployed over the Valley of the Khans.
After receiving the medal, Earhart humbly remarked, "My flight has added nothing to aviation. In one study, Sladen taught predetermined migration routes to family-size groups of wild-hatched trumpeter swans by conditioning them to follow an ultralight aircraft (he served as wildlife consultant on the film Fly Away Home, which fictionalized a similar undertaking). When he resigned as the Society’s president, he said he wanted to devote more time to his experiments with kites, but he probably also wished to allow son-in-law Gilbert H. There are more than a hundred species of starlings worldwide, and Africa has 22 glossy ones. Even while in flocks, the duck travels in pairs, favoring inland Australian wetlands over the rainier coast.
The intercontinental leg of the solar plane's journey was delayed several days by weather, though not by a lack of a sun. The team chose Morocco as its destination in order to help launch construction of the world's largest (160-megawatt) solar thermal power plant."We share a common message with Solar Impulse, a strong one," said Mustapha Bakkoury, MASEN's president.
The batteries weigh approximately 880 pounds (400 kilograms), more than 25 percent of the plane's total mass, and necessitated major weight reductions across the rest of the body. The plane's four motors average 8 horsepower, and together produce about the same amount of power as the Wright brothers used on their famous flights in 1903. QuinetiQ's Zephyr drone flew nonstop for 14 days in July 2010, circling the skies above the Yuma Proving Ground, a U.S. It's an inspiring example of what clean, green technology is capable of achieving."Our airplane is not designed to carry passengers, but to carry a message," said Bertrand Piccard. The flight is meant to fire the imagination and showcase the potential of solar powered flight in an aviation industry currently dominated by powerful fossil fuels. Louise had first got her pilot’s license and her father, of course, wouldn’t let her fly his airplane, so the first two years we would fly this two-seater plane that belonged to Richard’s brother, and Louise had very few hours on her pilot’s license and we had some quite hairy experiences.” Louise is now an established pilot with plenty of incident-free flights under her belt.
In some cases, we had two camps, one where we were working on leopards, another on lions, [and] the flight between the two was eight minutes long.
Their survey used the most advanced technologies to investigate one of the world’s greatest ancient mysteries. After all, literally hundreds have crossed the Atlantic by air, if those who have gone in heavier-than-air and lighter-than-air craft are counted and those who have crossed the North and South Atlantic. High winds, which create problems for the ultralight craft, kept the plane grounded until conditions improved early this week.Once under way, the flight to Morocco took 19 hours and 8 minutes at an average ground speed of just under 32 miles per hour (52 kilometers per hour). It's about having good conditions.""Solvay," the word displayed prominently on Solar Impulse's nose, is an international chemical company that became the project's first major partner in 2004, and contributed high-performance ultralight polymers that made the physical construction of the aircraft possible. By locating archaeological sites in this sacred area, the team hopes to enable the conservation of this important landscape.
Although it began and ended in darkness, the flight didn't really tax the airplane's power sources. Other sponsors include the watchmaker OMEGA, Deutsche Bank, and Schindler, a leading provider of elevators and escalators. QuinetiQ officials said the plane might have kept flying indefinitely but had little else to prove.

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