Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Why Don’t Birds Fall Over When They Take Off?

Credit: NickVorobey.com/Adobe

Credit: NickVorobey.com/Adobe

By Ben Parslew

An analysis of the biomechanics of the powerful jump of a bird taking flight gives inspiration for the future of agile robots.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

A plump pigeon with fluffy grey feathers is perched comfortably on the window ledge of my apartment. Its head twitches jerkily from side to side as its fiery orange eyes scan the pavement below for a dropped crumb.

But suddenly a car door slams shut, and the echoing thud panics the bird into action, lunging into the air with frantic clapping wings, a rapid ascent and then a swoop over the traffic below before a nimble and precise landing on the building opposite. This whole maneuver lasts less than two seconds but is so rich in physics that understanding it has kept scientists busy for decades.

Our latest research on bird flight, which has been published in Royal Society Open Science (https://goo.gl/nEvWhc), focused on just the very first instance – the jump – and we are now able to decipher how birds propel themselves from ground to air. Using a combination of mathematics, computer simulations and zoological data, we can explain the mechanics of jumping and how birds take off with such precision.

This brings us a step closer to understanding how the ancestors of living birds first jumped into flight more than 100 million years ago. It also gives us inspiration for designing the next generation of highly agile robots that will roam our planet in the future.

The challenge with...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.