Migration causes temporal and energetic constraints during plumage development, which can compromise feather structure and function. In turn, given the importance of a good quality of flight feathers in migratory movements, selection may have favoured the synthesis of feathers with better mechanical properties than expected from a feather production constrained by migration necessities. However, no study has assessed whether migratory behaviour affects the relationship between the mechanical properties of feathers and their structural characteristics. We analysed bending stiffness (a feather mechanical property which is relevant to birds’ flight), rachis width and mass (two main determinants of variation in bending stiffness) of wing and tail feathers in migratory and sedentary blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla. Migratory blackcaps produced feathers with a narrower rachis in both wing and tail, but their feathers were not significantly lighter; in addition, bending stiffness was higher in migratory blackcaps than in sedentary blackcaps. Such unexpected result for bending stiffness remained when we statistically controlled for individual variation in rachis width and feather mass, which suggests the existence of specific mechanisms that help migratory blackcaps to improve the mechanical behaviour of their feathers under migration constraints.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Journal publication date2010

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