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Terrestrial locomotion in the white stork (Ciconia ciconia): spatio-temporal gait characteristics

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image of Animal Biology

Slender legged stilt birds give the impression of striding more gracefully and more slowly than other bipeds when moving over ground, a behavioural characteristic often thought to be linked to the challenges imposed by walking on tendril stilts. To test the significance of this impression, video sequences (50 Hz) of free ranging storks were digitised and analysed. Spatio-temporal gait characteristics (stride length, step length, stride frequency, duty factor, swing phase duration) were determined and compared with those of other bird species and humans, taking account of speed of locomotion, leg length and body mass. Storks increase their speed mainly by increasing stride frequency, and to a lesser extent by taking longer strides. Step length is nearly independent of speed. As a result, the duty factor decreases when walking faster, becoming somewhat smaller than 0.5 m only at higher speeds. At speeds below 1.3 m/s swing phase duration decreases with increased walking velocity; at higher speeds swing phase duration remains nearly constant. In general, spatio-temporal gait characteristics do not differ in their dimensionless form from those of other bipeds. However, storks definitely walk much slower than would be expected from their size (leg length and mass). This suggests that these slender legged stilt birds, although walking dynamically similarly to other bipeds, do limit their walking speed, probably to avoid excessive musculo-skeletal stresses.


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