Determinants of wing-feather moult speed in songbirds

Yosef Kiat, Ido Izhaki, Nir Sapir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wing morphology is known to strongly affect flight performance by affecting lift and drag during flight. Performance may consequently deteriorate during feather moult due to the creation of feather gaps in the wing. Since wing gap size may directly affect the extent of reduced flight capacity, rapid moult involving the creation of large feather gaps is expected to substantially impair flight compared with the small gaps induced by a slower moult. To examine the factors affecting wing-feather moult speed, we studied adults of nineteen resident or very short-distance migrant passerine species during their post-breeding moult using a model-selection framework following a phylogenetically controlled analysis. We examined the speed of wing-feather moult in relation to each species’ flight distance index that was estimated based on local foraging movements rather than on longer flights (e.g., migration), assessed by the Delphi technique of expert evaluation. Moult speed was also examined with respect to six morphometric variables: body mass, wing loading, the feather comprising the tip of the wing, aspect ratio, wing span, and wing area. Our results suggest that flight distance index is the most important factor determining the speed of wing-feather moult in songbirds. Species that regularly fly a shorter distance were found to moult quickly, and those that take relatively longer flights moult slowly. These results suggest that the aerodynamic cost of wing area reduction due to feather moult shapes the evolution of annual routine processes by dictating a slower moult speed (resulting in small wing gaps) for species that regularly fly long distances and consequently may be affected more substantially by large wing gaps compared with short distance flyers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)783-795
Number of pages13
JournalEvolutionary Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer International Publishing Switzerland.


  • Annual routine
  • Feather moult speed
  • Flight distance
  • Phylogenetically controlled and comparative analysis
  • Wing morphology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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