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Fellows Directory

Colin Pennycuick

Colin Pennycuick

Professor Colin Pennycuick FRS


Elected: 1990


Colin Pennycuick is a leading authority on the flight of birds and bats, and of bird navigation and migration. Amongst his many contributions, he has advanced our understanding of the relationship between the power of flight muscles, wingbeat frequency and the power density of mitochondria — the ‘powerhouses’ of cells. Colin has also shed light on species-specific phenomena such as gust soaring in albatrosses.

He is known for his innovative data collection from controlled experiments — he pioneered the use of wind tunnels for flight studies, for example — and observations, including those made using a powered glider. He also developed the ornithodolite, a portable instrument for real-time computer recording of azimuth, elevation and range of birds in flight.

Colin’s ‘Flight’ software models the mechanics of bird flight, covering flapping and gliding flight and long-distance migration. His textbook, Modelling the Flying Bird (2008), complements his software, setting out the principles of aeronautical engineering and how they may be adapted to exploring biological problems of bird flight.

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