Home Birds Home

Birds Flight Pattern

Identifying Birds in Flight

Birds Flight Pattern 1

The speed of the wing stroke as well as the pattern - can often help you recognize a species.

Direct Flight Pattern

Steady flight with regular wing beats, along a constant line; typical of most species, including waterfowl, herons, doves, crows, shorebirds, and many songbirds.

Dynamic soaring Flight Pattern

Glides over water "downhill" with the wind to its back and when close to the surface quickly turns 180 degrees back into the wind. There the bird is lifted back up to near the original height upon which it turns back and soars "downhill" again. Characteristic of many pelagic species, including albatrosses, shearwaters, and petrels.

Flap and glide Flight Pattern

Alternates a burst of several wing beats with a short or long level glide. Many birds of prey, both hawks and owls, use this flight pattern as do Black Vultures, ibis, and pelicans.

Flightless Flight Pattern

Many species living in environments free of predators have given up the energy-demanding activity of flight. The only flightless North American species, the Great Auk, was hunted to extinction in 1844. (Hide - wings are held fully or partially extended as the bird loses altitude. Many birds glide down to a landing, or from perch to perch. Hawks may glide from the top of one thermal to the bottom of the next in migration.

Hawking Flight Pattern

Flying up from the ground or down from an aerial perch to seize a flying insect and looping back down to the same or nearby perch. Characteristic of flycatchers and other small, active insect-eating birds such as warblers, the Cedar Waxwing, and several species of woodpeckers.

Hovering Flight Pattern

Rapid wingbeats while the bird remains suspended in one spot over the ground or water. Typical of hummingbirds, kingfishers, American Kestrel, Osprey, Rough-legged Hawk and many small birds that hover briefly to glean food from vegetation.

Mothlike Flight Pattern

An erratic, sometimes bouncy, slow flight seen in nightjars, a few storm-petrels, and in the display flights of some small birds.

Skims Flight Pattern

The flight pattern of the Black Skimmer in which the bird flies a steady course with its lower mandible cleaving the surface of still water as it feeds.

Static soaring Flight Pattern

Birds Flight Pattern 2

Requires about a twentieth of the energy of flapping flight. Birds soar on rising heated columns of air, thermals, or on deflected currents and updrafts. Large hawks, eagles, vultures, storks, White Pelicans, and gulls soar this way.

Straight line formation Flight Pattern

An energy-saving style of flight used by some larger birds such as cormorants, pelicans, ibis, some waterfowl, and others. Birds may fly one behind the other, or abreast as do some scoters and eiders.

Undulating Flight Pattern

Some small birds conserve energy by rising on one or more wing beats and then folding the wings to the body and swooping down to the next wing beat. Characteristic of woodpeckers, finches, and chickadees.

V-formation Flight Pattern

An energy-saving flight style used by some larger birds, including ducks, geese, cranes, and cormorants.

Zigzag Flight Pattern

A pattern used by birds flushed from the ground as a way to elude predators. The Common Snipe and several species of quail are good examples.