Skip to Content

Bird Flight

eastern bluebird exiting nest box

Paula Elliott sent in this great photograph of a male Eastern Bluebird exiting a nest box.   The wings were no doubt folded as the bird exited the hole but it seems the bird can get an amazing amount of thrust from its legs.

The way a bird flies can be a clue to its identification.  Birds like the Cooper’s Hawk have a flap-flap glide flight pattern.

Woodpeckers are well known for their undulating flight.  Small songbirds like the American Goldfinch also have an undulating flight as they flap and rest, flap and rest.  This approach to flight is thought to save energy.

Turkey Vultures are on the other end of the size spectrum.  These large birds are often observed soaring high overhead.  They show a very shallow “V” shape when in flight. The field guides refer to this shape as a dihedral but that was always a little confusing to me.  Turkey Vultures wing flaps are slow and deep.  They also have a tendency to rock back and forth.

turkey vulture flight dihedral

The similar Black Vulture tends to soar with flat wings.  Its wing beats are shallow and more rapid than the Turkey Vulture.

 Paula is also and excellent artist, check out her web site.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

Let others know your thoughts or ask an expert

Jan Soderberg

Thursday 14th of September 2023

Dear Mr Crowe,

It seems to me that woodpeckers have their own style of undulating flight, where the "bow" of the pattern does not rise, but rather the opposite, it "hangs". So, at the beginning of a cycle the bird gains speed while losing height, and at the end of the cycle it raises, and gains height while losing speed. This pattern ideally provides speed at no cost, but it is also ideal for tree jumping, as the reduced speed at the end facilitates the landing. I have not found this style of undulation described anywhere.

Kind regards, Jan

Patrick O'Donnell

Monday 18th of September 2023

@Jan- Good observation, thank you for sharing! Interesting to hear how their flight pattern is also related to their movements between trees.

Would you like to get new articles of birds (Once a month?)

No SPAM! We might only send you fresh updates once a month

Thank you for subscribing!

No thanks! I prefer to follow BirdZilla on Facebook