Research

Flying in Cramped Quarters

A new study has found that budgerigars (also commonly known as parakeets or budgies) fly at only two distinct speeds. The researchers flew the birds in a tapered tunnel to see how they navigated in response to widening or narrowing paths. What they found, regardless of the flight direction in the tunnel, is that the birds fly at approximately 9.5 m/s in areas wider than 2.5 times their wingspan and drop suddenly to a speed about half that when in narrower areas. The higher speed falls within the bird’s most energy-efficient range, suggesting that the birds may prefer flying at this condition. Insects like bumblebees also change speeds when entering cluttered environments, but the insects do so gradually, not suddenly like the budgerigars. The reason for this difference is not yet known, but it could relate to how the animals sense their environment or to differences in their flight efficiency when varying speed. (Image credit: J. Bendon; research credit: I. Schiffner and M. Srinivasan; submitted by Marc A.; h/t to Irmgard B.)

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