Researchers show that dynamic sailing is not just for albatrosses

New study published today in Scientific advances proves that not only albatrosses perform the aerial acrobatics needed for dynamic sailing in the windy open ocean. Research shows that elegant seabirds called Manx shearwater perform the same flight performance in the seas around the United Kingdom.

The albatross glides on the corkscrew to gather energy from the wind gradient above the ocean surface, where the wind accelerates with altitude. This method of obtaining effort-saving wind energy is called dynamic sailing and explains how an albatross can travel thousands of miles across oceans without fluttering its wings.

Using avian video cameras and GPS recorders, researchers at Oxford University’s Department of Biology have shown that Manx’s water also uses dynamic sailing. The key difference is that by flapping their wings for part of the cycle, shearwaters can perform the same flight power in weaker winds.

The properties of weaving and the wavy flight of dynamic sailing were first scientifically described in 1883 and almost 400 years earlier were noticed by Leonardo da Vinci. However, it remained a remarkably difficult phenomenon.

“Experimentally demonstrating that a bird collects energy from a wind shear gradient is very difficult, especially for birds that slide with flaps such as a skid,” said James Kempton, co-author of the study, “so we developed a new way to calculate energy. harvest by modeling the shape of their flight trajectories in relation to the wind. “

The researchers analyzed videos recorded from the ridges of string waters floating over the Irish Sea. Using this to calculate the weaving and wavy movement of birds relative to the wind, the research team was able to determine when the shear waters used dynamic sailing to obtain energy from the wind instead of expending their own energy.

GPS recorders provided data on the behavior of more than 200 birds about their preferred direction of travel in various wind conditions. Analysis of these GPS data revealed that not only could shearwaters use dynamic climb to extract energy from the wind like an albatross; they also actively chose conditions that provided an opportunity to work smarter and not harder.

“When the winds are stronger, the surf waters are actively moving in the direction that uses these winds to the greatest energy advantage,” said Dr. Joe Wynn, co-author of the article. “However, we only see this when we leave for feeding, not when the birds need to return to the colony, regardless of the prevailing winds.”

Unlike previous approaches to dynamic sailing analysis, the authors’ approach could be applied to a variety of species, even birds that are not traditionally associated with dynamic sailing, such as gulls and falcons, which can use the same flight technique less noticeably.

“Our results show that energy savings can be achieved by weaving through even a fairly weak wind if you are willing to put in a little effort to get a big return,” said lead author Professor Graham Taylor. “The fact that Manx Shearwater is doing this suggests that small drones could use the same trick to extend the range and flight time of patrols in British coastal waters.”

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