(Above) Working from home: the research was based around the Henningsson family’s pet budgerigar Poppen, who is able to fly freely around their home © Shutterstock.com/Africa Studio 

 

A SWEDISH RESEARCHER used his family’s pet budgerigar to look into how birds avoid collision when flying in dense foliage and other cramped environments with numerous obstacles.

Making the most of his time spent at home during lockdown earlier this year, Per Henningsson of Lund University in Sweden involved his wife Teresa and his seven-year-old daughter Alice in the research, with the family’s one-year-old female budgie Poppen as the subject.

The Henningsson family constructed obstacles with openings of varying width – from 75cm to 7cm – in their hallway. Using high-speed cameras, Mr Henningsson filmed Poppen’s flight path in 3D and calculated how she slowed down and negotiated her way through the obstacles.

He commented: “The wingspan of a budgie is around 30 centimetres, so it was really impressive to observe that Poppen managed even the smallest opening of 7cm and that her flights were not affected at all until the opening was narrower than her wingspan.”

The study revealed that the budgerigar adapted its speed precisely to the width of the opening. As it approached the narrowest opening, it almost halved its speed and gained height before the obstacle. Mr Henningsson believes that this means it can predict the loss of altitude associated with slowing down and pausing its wingbeats as it flies through the gap.

The findings could help in the development of drones that must negotiate narrow spaces with obstacles and tight passages. However, Mr Henningsson stresses that the study has limitations, as it involved just one individual.

“It would definitely not have been easier or better to conduct the study in the lab; in fact, I am convinced that the only reason we succeeded in getting the bird to execute these demanding flights is that it is tame and comfortable in its usual, familiar environment, handled by people it knows well,” he added.

The study was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

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