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Hawks forward dive and then swoop up to hit the brakes before landing

A diving manoeuvre utilized by raptors to decelerate earlier than touchdown on a department may enhance expertise for flying and perching drones


29 June 2022

A Harris hawk about to land on a department

Jeremy Woodhouse

Most small birds will use a number of wingbeats to hover earlier than touching down on a department, however raptors like Harris hawks are too giant and heavy to make use of this technique. As an alternative, they make an abrupt dive and upward swoop simply earlier than perching, which reduces the prospect of a slipshod touchdown. Younger hawks appeared to study the behaviour although expertise, enhancing their perching abilities after round two dozen makes an attempt.

To raised perceive how and why hawks use this dramatic swooping movement, Graham Taylor on the College of Oxford and his group noticed the birds in gradual movement.

The group began by breaking down the flight patterns of 4 Harris hawks (Parabuteo unicinctus) perching at totally different distances. Three of the birds – named Toothless, from How you can Practice Your Dragon, and Drogon and Rhaegal after dragons from Sport of Thrones – have been juvenile males who hadn’t mastered the swoop movement but. The fourth hawk, an grownup feminine named Ruby, was already an adept flyer.

Of their lab, the researchers positioned perches 5, 7, 9 and 12 metres aside and recorded greater than 1500 hawk flights. The birds have been adorned with reflective backpacks and markings so the cameras may decide up their exact actions and translate them right into a 3D pc mannequin. The mannequin allowed the group to interrupt down every a part of the swoop intimately.

“We’ve got about 20 cameras across the room, and so they’re in search of these very brilliant markers,” says group member Lydia France, additionally on the College of Oxford. “It’s the identical form of factor that’s utilized in Hollywood for monitoring actors’ motions.”

Their evaluation revealed the nuances of the swoop: a ahead dive, adopted by a collection of quick wingbeats that launch the chicken upward. As soon as on this stalled place, the hawk can grasp a department with their toes. The researchers noticed no vital variations within the birds’ touchdown mechanics when stopping on the varied perch distances.

Whereas the manoeuvre seems to waste time and power – a uncommon alternative within the animal kingdom – it’s a obligatory step to make sure a swish touchdown. “It’s essential to slam on the brakes to return in to land safely,” says Taylor.

Initially, the three younger birds took a direct path between perches. However after a number of inelegant landings, the birds switched to the swooping movement that the skilled hawk, Ruby, used from the beginning. Every hawk carried out the flight experiment alone, suggesting that the juveniles picked up the talent from experimenting on their very own. The researchers observed that a person chicken’s flight sample adjustments barely relying on bodily traits like physique weight and wingspan. They believe different giant birds share the identical trial-and-error strategy to swooping.

Taylor and France hope that a greater understanding of hawks’ flight mechanics may enhance flying robots such as drones, which have struggled to grasp perching. “Taking a look at animals is actually useful to attempt to enhance the way in which that we get robots to work together with the world,” says France.

Journal reference: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04861-4

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