Our amazing feathered friends range from tiny hummingbirds to fast-running ostriches, from penguins to pigeons.  In both living and fossil forms, they provide endless opportunities for study and fascination.  Here are a few recent examples of news for the birds, in both good and bad connotations of the phrase.

Star Wars goshawks:  Fast-moving goshawks and some other species zip through the forest like the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid field or speeder bikes in the forests of Endor, never crashing into tree trunks.  According to New Scientist, a team at MIT has calculated a theoretical speed limit at which they are guaranteed to crash.  “The team believe that birds avoid this fate by gauging the density of their environment and adjusting their speed accordingly, knowing that they can always find a gap to fly through,” the article states.  Like skiers looking for the openings in front of them, “This allows a bird to fly much faster than if it just relied on the limits of its vision.”  Researcher Emilio Frazzoli believes mimicking this strategy would allow unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to fly faster through obstacles without having to add more sensors.

Don’t pass up the stunning video clip on Live Science.  It’s a literal bird’s-eye view of a goshawk, “the master of maneuverability,” flying through the forest at high speed.  The bird banks left and right, pulls in its wings, spreads its tail and flies effortlessly between tree trunks, threading the smallest gaps in a split second.  “No aircraft invented comes anywhere close.”

Optical illusion bowerbirds:  Male great bowerbirds spend a good deal of their 30-year lifetimes building elaborate ground nests called bowers to attract hens.  Two Australian scientists have figured out that the winning males are the ones who create the best optical illusions of a type called forced perspective.  The bowers have a tunnel-like entry that leads to the nuptial chamber.  Live Science reported that the male bowerbirds adorn the entryway with shells and pieces of bone, and “arrange items in such a way that the court appears uniform and small to a female viewing it from within the avenue, which makes the male appear much larger and more impressive than he really is.”  They put the large pieces at the end of the tunnel farther apart to make the tunnel look uniform.  If the pattern is disturbed, they will put things back the way they were.  The best illusionists got the best sex.  According to the researchers, who  this is the only known case of an animal using an optical illusion to attract mates….

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