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A Birds’ Eye View of Avian Flight


Some birds naturally fly left and others right. Credit: Antagain/iStockphoto

By Partha Bhagavatula

The “handedness” of birds enables them to navigate a collision-free path through complex environments, with some flying left of obstacles while others prefer to fly right.

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

Birds have mastery of life in the air, and have evolved effective strategies of flying rapidly and safely through complex and cluttered environments. Such agility requires quick decision-making and the ability to determine which of several possible flight paths would provide a safe, quick and collision-free passage.

How they do this? To our surprise we found that handedness plays a significant role. Some birds naturally fly left and others right.

Our study of bird flight began entirely by chance. As a graduate student at the Australian National University, I was studying the landing behaviour of budgerigars. This iconic Australian bird, which lives in the Australian outback, has a superb visual system and can perceive four colours: red, green, blue and ultraviolet.

One day, while setting up an experiment, a budgerigar named Casper escaped from the experimental room through a narrow gap between the doors. This piqued my curiosity because Casper managed to negotiate this narrow gap and emerge unscathed out on the other side.

As luck would have it, I happened to have a webcam with me that day, so I filmed my budgerigars flying through the gap between the doors several times over. When analysing the film footage I found that the budgerigars, irrespective of their body size, always flew through the centre of the gap with their wings folded and came...

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