Drones seem to be everywhere these days – taking photographs, delivering packages, and generally buzzing around the skies. In the United States alone, the Federal Aviation Administration has registered 1.1 million drones used for recreational purposes – and there are undoubtedly many others used for military surveillance and scientific research.
Unsurprisingly, birds aren’t big fans of these drones, which can frighten them to the extent that they leave nests full of chicks unprotected and vulnerable to predators or hurt themselves attacking the drones in self-defense. With this in mind, researchers at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology are developing a new type of drone that is less likely to startle birds, allowing researchers to better monitor them and study bird flight.
Led by Dr. Mostafa Hassanalian, the project utilizes dead birds that have been preserved through taxidermy to create more realistic, natural-looking drones. By combining parts of taxidermy birds with mechanical wings, electric motors, and computer software, the researchers have been able to achieve a more realistic flapping-wing motion than they would with a fully artificial bird lookalike. Although they certainly aren’t as good at flying as living birds, the taxidermy bird-drones can nevertheless flap their wings and make use of thermal currents to move forward, glide, and hover.
“It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a bird-drone!"
- The project is still in the testing phase at the university, with the taxidermy birds only able to fly for a maximum of 20 minutes (for now), and they have not yet been released among living birds in the wild. Eventually, the goal is to use the taxidermy drones for numerous purposes, such as studying how birds fly and migrate in flocks, how they are able to cover such long distances, and how color affects flight efficiency.
- In addition to increasing our understanding of birds, this knowledge could be useful for the aviation industry in learning to conserve fuel through more efficient flight patterns. Airports could also use the drones to help avoid collisions between real birds and aircraft.
- Compared to tradiitonal drones, it is hoped that the taxidermy bird drones will provide a far less obtrusive way for scientists to monitor a wide range of species and make observations about behaviors such as communication among birds and how they evade predators. And there could potentially be a future role for the taxidermy bird drones in military surveillance.