Flexural stiffness of feather shafts: geometry rules over material properties
Sprache des Titels:
Flight feathers of birds interact with the flow field during flight. They bend and twist under aerodynamic loads. Two parameters are mainly responsible for flexibility in feathers: the elastic modulus (Young's modulus, E) of the material (keratin) and the geometry of the rachises, more precisely the second moment of area (I). Two independent methods were employed to determine Young's modulus of feather rachis keratin. Moreover, the second moment of area and the bending stiffness of feather shafts from fifth primaries of barn owls (Tyto alba) and pigeons (Columba livia) were calculated. These species of birds are of comparable body mass but differ in wing size and flight style. Whether their feather material (keratin) underwent an adaptation in stiffness was previously unknown. This study shows that no significant variation in Young's modulus between the two species exists. However, differences in Young's modulus between proximal and distal feather regions were found in both species. Cross-sections of pigeon rachises were particularly well developed and rich in structural elements, exemplified by dorsal ridges and a well-pronounced transversal septum. In contrast, cross-sections of barn owl rachises were less profiled but had a higher second moment of area. Consequently, the calculated bending stiffness (EI) was higher in barn owls as well. The results show that flexural stiffness is predominantly influenced by the geometry of the feathers rather than by local material properties.