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A new Cornell University study found that birds can use airplane turbulence to their advantage in flight. While human fliers dread turbulence, for birds it can be a boost.

The study looked at wind speed data alongside measured accelerations of a golden eagle with GPS tracking instruments. In the research, scientists found the birds were using turbulence to their advantage.

The paper “Turbulence Explains the Accelerations of an Eagle in Natural Flight,” published June 8 in PNAS, Cornell reported.

Gregory Bewley assistant professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, who led the research team said that while bird flights look smooth to us, they are often navigating airflow that’s fluctuating and textured.

“The air is always turbulent. This is really hard to convey, because unless there’s a cloud or smoke, it is transparent to us,” said Bewley. “I suspect these animals know a lot about turbulence in a practical sense. They’re not just responding to this as if it were an annoyance. They feel it and can probably anticipate it and respond in clever ways that I think would be useful for us to implement in our own flight vehicles.”

Bewley is eager to apply this new knowledge about turbulence to other areas. It’s a great indicator of the possibilities of the energy available in turbulence.

“If you could find a path in which every vortex is pushing you the right way, then obviously you get there a little faster with a little less energy,” Bewley said. “We’re still working hard to understand turbulence by itself. I think it’s fascinating that there might be some practical empirical knowledge embodied in wildlife that we don’t appreciate yet.”

Read more news about birds in One Green Planet, including NYC’s new law to protect birds from glass, birds found dead in RomeAudubon Society’s warning on climate change and birdsthe scientists that studied climate change’s effect on birds, how methane gas from landfills harms birds, and why you shouldn’t buy a pet bird.

Sign this petition to demand that several of the largest cities in the United States — including Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Houston — pass “bird-friendly” glass building ordinances!

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