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Birds, Bats Are Models For Next Generation Drones 

Engineers working to build smaller flying machines are looking to those that know how to do it best—bats, birds and bees. Unlike human constructions, these animals use flexible flight surfaces to maneuver more precisely through air. 

In this 2012 video, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research presents some of the projects it is funding at universities like Harvard and Brown to make next-generation flying surveillance and warfighting tools.

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MIT researchers have unraveled exactly how water birds like ducks and cormorants keep dry when diving in up to 100 feet of water. The secret is a combination of water-repelling oil the birds spread on their feathers during preening and the tightly interlocking structure of the feather’s barbs and barbules.

By testing and modeling the action of water on a feather, they were able to see that the bird’s plumage doesn’t totally repel the liquid and can actually get wet when immersed. But the bird’s preening oil increases the energy needed for water to wet the feather. When the animal leaves the water, the wetting is reversed and the water is ejected off the feather.

"If a feather gets wet, there is no need for it to dry out, in the traditional sense of evaporation,” says Robert Cohen, a chemical engineering professor on the research team. “It can dry by directly ejecting the water from its structure, as the pressure is reduced as it comes back up from its dive.” 

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Falcon Cam Could Help Reduce Collisions

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by Petti Fong

Falcons are particularly astute hunters, able to use a wide visual field to track and attack targets. Their pursuit strategy has evolved so they can hunt fast and erratically moving prey in complex environments.

The wide-angle vision system that makes them such good predators, however, also make them particularly prone to collisions with buildings, wind turbines and power lines.

Now a new understanding of how falcons track and capture their prey may open up future possibilities in designing structures that are more visible to large birds. 

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by Michael Keller

Happy Birthday, John James Audubon! The famous student and painter of birds was born on April 26, 1785. In celebration of his great work, and of the conservation movement he helped inspire, we present a few examples of his illustrations.

All of these images come from his seminal work The Birds of America, printed in a series from 1827 to 1838. These drawings come courtesy of the digital collection of the New York Public Library, which includes many other illustrations from Audubon.

Above is an adult male whooping crane, which appears to be going for a meal of baby alligators. The bird is presently endangered.

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