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How do Wild Birds Avoid Flying Into Each Other?

There are many accidents on our roads, but for the most part, we manage to avoid collisions with other motorists. Traffic signals, road markings and the highway code ensure that vehicles can move around safely. In the skies above us, aircraft adhere to their own rules and have proximity warnings and air traffic control to help them to avoid accidents. But what about birds? Why aren’t they continually flying onto each other?

Intelligence and Language

As humans we pride ourselves on our intelligence and use this to evolve the systems we need to safely coexist. We are sophisticated communicators and so can ensure that road users and pilots are aware of what they need to know. Birds may lack our intelligence and language skills but nature has seen to it that they can still avoid each other in flight so how do they do it?

New Research Reveals Nature’s Secret

Research conducted by Queensland University in Australia has revealed the wild birds’ secret. The study looked at what happens when birds fly towards each other and revealed that they always turn right. Millions of years of evolution has taught them to turn the same way every time. The study, which centred on budgerigars, also showed that individual birds choose to fly at different altitudes.

The Budgerigar Tunnel

The researchers used a tunnel and repeatedly released a budgerigar from each end so that they would be flying towards each other. In over 100 flights involving 10 different birds, there wasn’t a single collision. The birds each exhibited a preference for a different height. The basis on which the birds choose their altitude is not known but may be related to their position in the group hierarchy. If the birds were ever in danger of colliding, they always turned right and successfully avoided an accident.

So evolutionary pressures have resulted in birds having basic rules and strategies to keep safe. This is a fascinating finding and these basic flying rules could prove useful to human safety.

Learning Valuable Lessons from Wild Birds

Air traffic continues to increase and so our skies are becoming more and more crowded. The problem has been exacerbated by the development of drones. It will be necessary to develop enhanced strategies and systems to prevent collisions and the birds’ natural behaviour provides valuable clues as to how safer skies could be achieved.

Superior Intelligence?

Perhaps we humans aren’t so clever after all! The birds’ strategy could certainly be usefully employed by people on foot. How often have you experienced one of those awkward moments when you walk towards somebody and then you both move the same way to avoid each other and end up colliding anyway. We should all learn to step to the right!

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