Feathers for escape: the transition from juvenile to adult in red-legged partridges (Alectoris rufa)

Nadal, Jesús; Ponz, Carolina; Margalida, Antoni (2018). Feathers for escape: the transition from juvenile to adult in red-legged partridges (Alectoris rufa). Biological journal of the Linnean Society, 123(1), pp. 72-80. Oxford University Press 10.1093/biolinnean/blx130

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Almost all birds use their fight feathers as a means of escaping predators, and their specific design is adapted to their individual circumstances. For example, Galliform birds use a fast, explosive, noisy take-off to startle a predator. Their legs, wings and feathers must work together to create a strong propulsive force and loud, rhythmic sound. Partridges in a group initiate escape simultaneously, even though individuals in the flock differ in size and experience, as well as in age and sex resulting in feathers that differ in length and shape. In a long-term study, we measured 13814 wild red-legged partridges (Alectoris rufa) to understand how variation in feather proportions and morphometrics between the age–sex classes relate to their escape abilities. We devised two new indexes to quantify the aerodynamic differences between age–sex classes. Our approach synthesizes the understanding of bird take-flight mechanics, feather proportions and the aerodynamic properties of wing tips to show how differences in feather length and tip shape characterize age–sex classes. Our findings suggest that the density, stiffness, permeability, size and shape of the distal primary feathers and wing tips can explain aerodynamic differences between individuals and the efficiency of groups in escape situations.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE) > Conservation Biology

UniBE Contributor:

Margalida, Antoni


500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology
500 Science > 590 Animals (Zoology)




Oxford University Press




Olivier Roth

Date Deposited:

05 Jun 2019 13:12

Last Modified:

24 Oct 2019 21:01

Publisher DOI:






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