During the moult, birds sequentially replace their flight feathers and thus temporarily have gaps in their wings. These gaps will vary in size and position(s) during the course of the moult. We investigated the aerodynamic effects of having moult gaps in a rectangular wing by using a vortex-lattice (panel) approach, and we modelled the effect of moult gap size at the wing moult initiation position, of gap position in the primary tract and of two simultaneous gaps (as occurs during secondary feather moulting in many birds). Both gap size and gap position had a detrimental effect on aerodynamic performance as measured by lift curve slope, effective aspect ratio and the aerodynamic efficiency of the wing. The effect was largest when the moult gap was well inside the wing, because the circulation declines close to the wing tip. In fact, when the gap was at the wing tip, the performance was slightly increased because the lift distribution then became closer to the optimal elliptical distribution. The detrimental effect of moult gaps increased with increasing aspect ratio, which could help to explain why large birds have relatively slow rates of moult associated with small gaps.
- © 1999 by Company of Biologists