Budgerigar flight in a varying environment: flight at distinct speeds?

TitelBudgerigar flight in a varying environment: flight at distinct speeds?
MedientypJournal Article
Jahr der Veröffentlichung2016
AutorenSchiffner, I., and M. V. Srinivasan
JournalBiology Letters

How do flying birds respond to changing environments? The behaviour of budgerigars, Melopsittacus undulatus, was filmed as they flew through a tapered tunnel. Unlike flying insects—which vary their speed progressively and continuously by holding constant the optic flow induced by the walls—the birds showed a tendency to fly at only two distinct, fixed speeds. They switched between a high speed in the wider section of the tunnel, and a low speed in the narrower section. The transition between the two speeds was abrupt, and anticipatory. The high speed was close to the energy-efficient, outdoor cruising speed for these birds, while the low speed was approximately half this value. This is the first observation of the existence of two distinct, preferred flight speeds in birds. A dual-speed flight strategy may be beneficial for birds that fly in varying environments, with the high speed set at an energy-efficient value for flight through open spaces, and the low speed suited to safe manoeuvring in a cluttered environment. The constancy of flight speed within each regime enables the distances of obstacles and landmarks to be directly calibrated in terms of optic flow, thus facilitating simple and efficient guidance of flight through changing environments.


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