There’s nothing better than watching a bird hunt for food or build a nest for its future younglings. Ultimately, bearing witness to these natural moments can give you limitless joy. What’s even more fascinating is to see a bird take flight, which can lead us to a curious question. Can birds fly straight up from the ground in a vertical direction?
The short answer is yes. Yet, not all birds are capable of this take-off style. In fact, only a few bird species can fly directly upwards.
Have we piqued your interest enough? You can join us while we explore the flight techniques of different birds more in-depth.
Which Birds Can Fly Straight Up From the Ground?
This unique flying style comes naturally to only a handful of birds, and it can be next to impossible for many. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at birds that can fly vertically from the ground.
When we talk about flying vertically, hummingbirds must come at the top of our list. These tiny creatures fly the same way that a helicopter does, which is a sight that you won’t see often if you’re a bird watcher.
The secret behind their ability to do this is how their body and wings work.
See, while the wings of most birds generate their lift on the downstroke, the wings of hummingbirds are capable of more. These slim wings can produce lift on the upstroke, too, helping them rise in an upright manner.
Plus, a hummingbird’s body stays in a tipped-up position to give the wings enough room to beat back and forth parallel to the ground. As a result, most of the lift comes from the forward downstroke while the rest is produced from the backward upstroke.
Author Note: Another factor that helps hummingbirds achieve this remarkable flight style is that their wings flap up to 80 times per second. Pretty incredible, right?
It’s even more awe-inspiring that hummingbirds don’t need to jump in order to fly straight up. Their wingbeats are powerful enough to carry them up without additional help.
While ducks may not be as efficient at vertical flying as hummingbirds, they’re still pretty close behind. Furthermore, not all duck types can fly this way. Instead, those known as puddle ducks have mastered the art of taking off straight up from the surface of the water, including:
When watching one of these ducks take flight, you’ll notice that its mechanism is quite different from that of a hummingbird. Here, a duck will slap its extended wings against the water while simultaneously pushing against it with its tail feather.
When done at the same time, those two actions launch the duck’s body into the air in a vertical motion. And, when it’s finally airborne, the duck switches to a horizontal flying pattern.
The last type of bird that can fly straight up from the ground is a pigeon. Naturally, its take-off method isn’t the same as the previous two birds.
Besides using its wings to generate lift, a pigeon will push with its little feet against the surface it’s perched on.
3 Bird Flying Styles to Watch for
Even though vertical flight is impressive to witness, many other take-off styles are just as spectacular. In this section, we’ll go through three different flight patterns that are pretty common in birds.
1. Using the Force of the Wind
Many birds, especially the larger ones, can find it tricky to just fly straight up from the ground. In this case, they tend to use the help of the wind to generate their lift.
Author Note: You may find this behavior among loons. These birds will run in the direction of the wind, spread their wings, and flap them to get their kickstart. Then, the rush of the wind underneath the wings will lift the birds up without much effort.
2. Jumping From High Perches
Instead of shooting for the stars, some birds will jump from higher elevations to get their initial thrust. Here, birds use the force of gravity to their advantage, jumping from cliffs or man-made structures.
Puffins and Peregrine Falcons are good examples of this take-off style. Once they let go of their steady, vertical perch, these birds will fall into the air and let it carry them while they flap their wings.
3. Leaping on Legs
The final take-off style is the most common among birds of all species. In this scenario, a bird will leap upon its strong legs while flapping its wings again and again.
You may mistake this flight mechanism for that of a hummingbird, but they’re not the same. Here, the bird flies gradually into the air in a forward motion. On the other hand, a hummingbird can fly straight up just like a helicopter would.
Songbirds and cranes are two examples of birds that follow this behavior.
Why Can’t All Birds Fly Straight Up From the Ground?
The reason why not all birds are capable of this flight style is that their bodies and abilities aren’t the same.
For example, large birds can’t rely on their wings alone to generate lift because their weight won’t allow it. Instead, they tend to seek the help of a strong wind, jumping off a cliff, or leaping into the air.
Also, the shape of the wings themselves plays a huge part in this regard. Hummingbirds, ducks, and pigeons have wings that support this type of take-off. On the other hand, falcons, songbirds, as well as the majority of bird species aren’t equipped with this feature.
What Are the Factors That Help a Bird Fly Into the Air?
If you’re wondering how birds manage to fly despite the pull of gravity, you must take a look at the factors that allow this.
1. Physical Features
Without a doubt, the physical form of a bird is the number one reason it could fly. These creatures are designed for flight, with numerous details that help them challenge the force of gravity.
- Smooth and lightweight feathers to reduce the force of weight and thrust
- A large breastbone to eliminate the force of thrust
- Hollow bones to minimize the weight of the bird
- Thin, tiny cross pieces in the bones to give them extra strength
- A solid skeleton to provide strong attachments for more powerful muscles
- A beak instead of heavy teeth to reduce the overall weight
- Wings to help generate the force of lift
2. The Shape of the Wings
The second most important factor that helps a bird get into the air is its wings. These two curious body parts have been the reason why many scholars stayed up late into the night to understand how they work.
Author Note: When a bird flies, the air moves more quickly over the top surface of the wing than underneath it. This difference in speed reduces the air pressure over the top of the wing, creating lift.
In addition to that, the angle of the wing plays a major role in helping a bird fly. When tilted, the wing deflects air downwards, leading to a reaction force in the opposite direction. As a result, the bird will end up with enough lift to rise into the air.
The flapping motion itself is another reason why birds can take off pretty easily. When the wings flap in an up-and-down motion, it propels them forward. Here’s how it happens.
During the downstroke, the wings produce lift and thrust forces. This is when the air is deflected downward and to the rear. After that, the bird folds its wings when it’s time for the upward stroke, passing through the air with the least resistance.
Note that the inner part of the wing remains almost motionless, aiding in generating lift as well.
4. Obtaining Thrust
The last ingredient that a bird needs to fly is to find a decent amount of thrust to push it into flight. As we’ve previously discussed, birds have numerous ways to get their initial thrust. Somehow, it’s always a combination of flapping their wings and using their strong muscles.
Some use the force of gravity by diving off a cliff or a chimney. Other birds push the ground with their feet, while many species prefer to go for a running take-off from their perch.
To Wrap It Up
It’s always soothing to watch a bird gliding or soaring above the treetops. But almost no one pays enough attention to how birds initiate their flight. If you take a moment to consider this, you may ask, ‘Can birds fly straight up from the ground?’
Well, only a few birds are capable of this take-off style, including hummingbirds, ducks, and pigeons. On the other hand, the rest of the bird species may find it harder to take off vertically.
Yet, that’s not an issue because birds have multiple ways to get into the air. They’ll either run into the wind, push off their perch with their legs, or jump from higher elevations. It’s pretty fascinating how birds have various unique flying techniques, don’t you agree?
Fly high friends!
According to the RSPB:
Their bodies are designed for it. Their arms have transformed into wings to power them along. Instead of heavy jaws and teeth, they have lightweight beaks.
The Bar-tailed Godwit flies from Alaska to New Zealand non-stop. It takes them to nearly 7,000 miles flown in one journey. I have seen these birds arrive in New Zealand. They are tired and starving hungry but still have the energy to chatter as they search the beach for food. Incredible.
That award would have to go to the Peregrine Falcon. It can reach speeds of over 200 miles per hour as it dives for a kill.