I have always been a nervous flier despite having flown hundreds of thousands of miles over several decades. (Yes, I’m THAT old.) Turbulence, among other things, unsettles me. I know I am not alone in this fear though I never considered the impact of turbulence on birds.
As we know, turbulence means the airflow is changing direction, much like currents in the water. It can scale from tiny swirls to hurricane winds and features eddies and vortices. They occur because of weather patterns, geographic features such as mountains, or simply when warm and cooler air collide.
Using this information, a group from Cornell University studied the
impact of turbulence on birds. A captured golden eagle fitted with a solar-powered GPS tracker served as their inflight data source.
Dr. Gregory Bewley, an assistant professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, interpreted the eagle’s reactions to turbulence. He noted that the bird likely anticipated the disturbances and adjusted its flight behaviors in synchronization with the changing airflow. This synchronization appears to result in greater flight efficiency, including increasing acceleration with little effort.
Dr. Bewley noted that if this principle applies to this large bird, it will most likely apply to smaller birds as well.
A bird’s superior understanding of one of the earth’s dynamics is on display once again.
For more information check out the press release from Cornell – https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2021/06/turbulence-gets-eagles-speed
Here is the PNAS paper – https://www.pnas.org/content/118/23/e2102588118
While we are airborne so to speak, let’s talk about a case of mistaken identity.
Identifying a new species must be a thrilling experience but confirming the novelty isn’t always a certainty.
In the 1870s, a rare bee specimen was uncovered in Nevada. Since then, it was known as the rarest bee in North America. Only one was ever found, until now.
A team from Canada, examining the specimen, realized that that one bee was an aberrant example of a much more widespread species known as the California digger-cuckoo bee (Brachymelecta californica).
The unique individual had different colored hairs and wing features. No wonder folks thought it was a different species. Alas, it was not.
To read more about this, check out the release from the Canadian Museum of Nature – https://nature.ca/en/about-us/museum-news/news/press-releases/case-mistaken-identity-solved-rarest-bee-genus-north-americ