WTF Fun Fact 13458 – Taxidermied Bird Drones

Researchers often look to nature for inspiration when designing machines and devices – now scientists from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology are taking this concept a step further, building taxidermied bird drones.

Why use taxidermy bird drones?

The idea might seem disturbing or bizarre at first. A decade ago, a Dutch artist, Bart Jansen, had stirred conversation by turning a deceased, taxidermied cat into a furry quadcopter. However, the researchers from New Mexico Tech have a practical reason for their unique approach to creating ornithopters—drones that fly by flapping their wings like a bird.

Their aim is to harness the flight capabilities of birds whose lightweight bodies and flexible feathers give them remarkable maneuverability that outmatches the most sophisticated aircraft we’ve built.

According to a study presented at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech 2023 Forum, using actual bird parts can offer significant advantages over artificial materials engineered to mimic bird behavior.

The researchers believe that their bird-built drones can effectively camouflage in the air, being more likely to be ignored due to their realistic appearance. These drones may not excel in performing complex aerial maneuvers like a living bird, but they could become an essential tool in espionage or wildlife study.

From stealth to espionage

One unique advantage of using bird feathers in these taxidermied bird drones is the stealth capabilities they offer. Unlike the noticeable hum of an electric motor propelling a typical drone, a bird drone with flapping feathered wings could potentially sneak up on targets quietly without alarming them. This would be particularly useful in studying and observing wildlife in their natural habitats, without disturbing their normal behaviors. Military applications could also benefit from the stealth properties of these feathered drones, providing an innovative approach to surveillance and reconnaissance.

The current bird-built drones, however, have limitations. Unlike real birds that use their muscles to flex and shape their wings for executing intricate aerial maneuvers, these drones can only flap their stiff wings up and down to stay airborne. The challenge for the researchers lies in advancing the technology to imbue their bird drones with greater agility in flight.

The research from New Mexico Tech presents an intriguing intersection of biology and technology, pushing the boundaries of how we perceive and utilize drones. As they continue to refine their design, these bird-built drones could revolutionize areas from espionage to wildlife observation. Yet, ethical considerations, including the use of taxidermied birds, will undoubtedly be part of the ongoing discourse as this technology evolves.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Researchers Are Turning Taxidermied Birds Into Drones” — Gizmodo

WTF Fun Fact 13376 – Dawn Chorus

Even if you’ve never heard of the phenomenon known as the dawn chorus, you’ve likely heard the sound itself. As the sun rises in spring and summer, a symphony of sounds fills the air when birds engage in a vocal performance that serves various important purposes.

What is the bird’s dawn chorus?

The dawn chorus is a collective effort involving multiple bird species, each contributing its unique voice to the melodic tapestry. From the lilting trills of songbirds to the resonant calls of woodpeckers and the distinctive melodies of thrushes, the symphony represents a rich diversity of avian vocalizations. But they aren’t singing to us.

One of the primary functions of this natural symphony is territorial defense. Birds seize the opportunity to assert their ownership over specific territories. By filling the air with their songs, they establish clear acoustic boundaries that communicate to other birds that the area is already claimed. This territorial proclamation helps to minimize conflicts and maintain an orderly distribution of resources.

Another purpose of the dawn chorus is mate attraction. During the breeding season, male birds use their vocal prowess to woo potential mates. By singing prominently in the early morning hours, males not only showcase their physical fitness but also advertise their presence to females. The melodious performances serve as impressive displays of strength, stamina, and genetic quality, enticing potential partners and ensuring successful breeding opportunities.

Communicating through song

The dawn chorus also serves as a means of communication within bird communities. It allows individuals to stay in touch with their flock members, enhancing social cohesion and facilitating cooperative activities.

Birds utilize specific calls, songs, and vocalizations to convey messages about foraging locations, potential threats, and other important information. The intricate language of the dawn chorus helps birds maintain social bonds and promote the collective well-being of their group.

The composition and timing of the dawn chorus can vary significantly from region to region. Different bird species have their preferred time of day for vocalizing, resulting in a dynamic and ever-changing soundscape. In some areas, certain species may dominate the chorus, creating a distinct acoustic signature unique to the local ecosystem.

While the dawn chorus is most prominent during the breeding season, it can occur throughout the year, albeit with less intensity and diversity. Factors such as weather conditions, habitat characteristics, and the presence of migratory species can influence the overall dynamics of the chorus.

Scientists and bird enthusiasts continue to study the dawn chorus to unravel its secrets. By examining vocal patterns, deciphering communication codes, and exploring the impacts of environmental factors, researchers gain insights into the complex social dynamics and ecological significance of these morning concerts.

Such knowledge aids in conservation efforts, ensuring the preservation of habitats that support thriving bird populations and the continuation of this captivating phenomenon.

 WTF fun facts

Source: The Dawn Chorus | Bird Mating Season — RSPB

WTF Fun Fact 12767 – Lyrebird Mimicry

There are actually two types of lyrebirds, both live in Australia, and both are fabulous mimics. We just think the superb lyrebird has a better name. The other one is called Albert’s lyrebird and it’s a little less showy (but equally capable of mimicry).

Lyrebird taxonomy

The superb lyrebird belongs to the genus Menura (family Menuridae, order Passeriformes, if you like to get truly taxonomic). The birds live in the forests of southeastern Australia and do not fly – they are groundbirds.

For the most part, they’re not so impressive to look at. They look a lot like brown chickens. Well, except for the male superb lyrebird – he has to show off to attract females.

What does a lyrebird look like?

According to Britannica (cited below), “the male’s tail consists of eight pairs of ornate feathers, which resemble a lyre when erect. There are six pairs of filmy whitish feathers. One pair of 60–75-cm (24–30-inch) feathers that form the arms of the ‘lyre’ are broad and curled at the tip and are silvery on one side and marked with golden-brown crescents on the other. There are also two equally long ‘wires,’ narrow, stiff, slightly curved feathers that correspond to a lyre’s strings; they are situated in the centre of the curved ‘arms’…When the male displays in small clearings, which he makes at several places in the forest, he brings his tail forward so that the white plumes form a canopy over his head and the lyrelike feathers stand out to the side.”

Lyrebird mimicry

Here’s our favorite part of Britannica’s description: “In this position he sings, while prancing in rhythm, far-carrying melodious notes interspersed with perfect mimicry of other creatures and even of mechanical sounds.”

You might not think much of that at first, but the fact that a bird can mimic just about any sound is not only impressive but potentially creepy. Imagine walking through the deep forest in Australia (known for all manner of amazing-yet-terrifying creatures) only to hear the sound of a predator, a crying child, or a chainsaw!

We’d be freaked out, to say the least.

Seriously, listen to this bird mimic a baby crying!

Ok, now listen to construction noise (we had to double-check to make sure it was real):

Next time you head construction in the outback, look closer to the ground if you don’t see any men with tools. It may just be a lyrebird trying to troll you.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Lyrebird” – Britannica