Tests hint bird tails are misunderstood

12:24pm, July 11, 2001

In the hotly debated matter of bird-tail aerodynamics, the first wind tunnel measurements indicate that the prevailing theory may be wrong.

The basic avian tail has the triangular shape of supersonic planes like the Concorde, explains Jeremy Rayner at the University of Leeds in England. Since the early 1990s, dozens of ornithology papers have therefore drawn on the mathematics of these delta-wing aircraft. Biologists have argued over how much of the shape of a bird's tail comes from aerodynamics and how much from males' need to bedazzle females.

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