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Lovebirds and Aerodynamics: Fast Turns

Jul 01, 2015 06:16 PM EDT

Anyone who has taken modern-dance classes knows there's a certain quick turn that involves keeping your head ahead of you, so that you don't get dizzy as you spin on stage. Apparently, lovebirds have their own trick: When they turn in mid-flight, they improve their sight and shorten blur by rotating their heads at speeds of up to 2,700 degees per second, researchers from Stanford and others recently reported in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Their speed is greater than for any other vertebrate recorded to date. The study authors filmed lovebirds at 2,000 frames per second, during a goal-directed task of take-off, fly away from a perch, turn, and fly back to land on the same perch, according to a release.

When researchers analyzed the high-speed flight recordings, they found that lovebirds execute very fast head turns during their turning maneuvers.

Lovebirds have a technique for this: They turn their heads when their wings are covering their eyes. That is, they shorten phases of blurry and obscured sight into a tiny fraction of the actual turning time, according to Eurekalert.

Very likely, the lovebirds are then able to make split-second decisions during rapid turns, the scientists believe. Their research could be used to inspire camera rotation design in drones to improve imaging, the researchers think. 

A Stanford video of the lovebirds is here

Follow Catherine at @TreesWhales

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