Bird flight is a remarkable adaptation that has allowed the approximately 10 000 extant species to colonize all terrestrial habitats on earth including high elevations, polar regions, distant islands, arid deserts, and many others. Birds exhibit numerous physiological and biomechanical adaptations for flight. Although bird flight is often studied at the level of aerodynamics, morphology, wingbeat kinematics, muscle activity, or sensory guidance independently, in reality these systems are naturally integrated. There has been an abundance of new studies in these mechanistic aspects of avian biology but comparatively less recent work on the physiological ecology of avian flight. Here we review research at the interface of the systems used in flight control and discuss several common themes. Modulation of aerodynamic forces to respond to different challenges is driven by three primary mechanisms: wing velocity about the shoulder, shape within the wing, and angle of attack. For birds that flap, the distinction between velocity and shape modulation synthesizes diverse studies in morphology, wing motion, and motor control. Recently developed tools for studying bird flight are influencing multiple areas of investigation, and in particular the role of sensory systems in flight control. How sensory information is transformed into motor commands in the avian brain remains, however, a largely unexplored frontier.