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Hummingbirds Can Withstand Turbulence Remarkably Well

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You've probably seen a slow-motion video of a hummingbird suspended in the air, wings flapping furiously to keep himself stationary as he enjoys a mid-flight sugary treat. But what about when there's wind? Hummingbirds can't go hungry just because there's a little weather to contend with. Sridhar Ravi, the lead scientists on a new study out about hummingbird stability in the face of turbulence, explained to Popular Mechanics that hummingbirds have to deal with different wind conditions all the time.

"That's like asking, 'how often do walking animals encounter uneven terrain?'" he said. "The answer is, basically all the time and they need to come up with strategies to contend with the unsteadiness of the medium."

To test how well hummingbirds deal with this unsteadiness, Ravi and his team tracked the body movements of four female ruby-throated hummingbirds as they navigated a wind tunnel to reach a sugar feeder at the far end. What they found was that hummingbirds are unparalleled at staying steady: Faced with winds of up to 10 mph, the hummingbirds kept their heads perfectly still while the rest of their bodies careened around to compensate. For comparison's sake, the 10 mph winds were considered a "turbulence intensity" of 15 percent. When professional pilots attempted the feat with mini drones, none of them could even keep the crafts in the air at a turbulence intensity of 5 percent.

Still too obscure? Ravi compared this feat to "asking a person to maintain perfect handwriting in a car as it is being driven off-road. Also note that the birds are experiencing accelerations up to 1G, implying the person must perform the task in the off-road car while instantaneously experiencing forces equivalent to their own weight!"

What the scientists didn't learn from this study is how the hummingbirds stay so steady. And while that research is certainly upcoming, don't hold your breath for hummingbird-style planes—Ravi said that their wings are just too complicated for us to mimic.

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Matt Tillett, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
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Animals
‘Harvey the Hurricane Hawk’ Returns to the Wild
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Matt Tillett, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Among the devastating news that came out of Houston during the last weekend in August, there was one video that warmed the hearts of those following Hurricane Harvey. A Cooper's hawk startled Texas cab driver William Bruso after climbing into his car and hunkering down before the storm. Now, after receiving care from both Bruso and local wildlife experts, the Associated Press reports that "Harvey the Hurricane Hawk" has been released.

As the video below shows, Bruso assumed that the bird sensed the severe weather approaching and sought refuge in his cab. "He seems to be scared," he said. "He doesn’t know what’s going on. Hurricane Harvey is getting ready to barrel down through over here, and he doesn’t want to leave."

Veterinarians at the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition Wildlife Center later learned that the hawk—which is actually female—had suffered head trauma, likely by flying into something, and this had left her unable to fly. After she refused to leave his side, Bruso took her into his home, fed her chicken hearts, and let her spend the night. Liz Compton of the rehabilitation center came to pick her up the next day.

Following a week and a half of medical care, Harvey the hawk has returned to the skies. According to TWRC, the animal likely wouldn't have survived the storm if she hadn't been given shelter. Texans hoping to catch a glimpse of the viral celebrity may be able to spot her above Oak Point Park in Plano, Texas, where she was released on September 13.

[h/t AP]

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Art
Crocheted Costumes That Make Pigeons Look Like Extinct Species
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When it comes to envisioning what extinct species looked like, we don’t have much to go on outside of a select few museums with skeletons and reconstructed models. But now, one artist is giving us a whole new way to look at long-gone birds like the dodo or passenger pigeon. 

California-based artist Laurel Roth Hope is a former park ranger and conservationist who creates detailed costumes that make ordinary urban pigeons look like birds that no longer soar through the skies, Boing Boing reports. Her Biodiversity Reclamation Suits for Urban Pigeons create doll-like representations of birds most have never seen. (The pigeons in the photos are hand-carved mannequins, though, so don't worry about the poor bird that has to don a dead relative's outfit.)

A close-up of the Carolina parakeet costume shows crocheted details.

“Inspired by the traditional use of fiber-craft to provide safety and comfort,” she writes in her description of the project, “I have been crocheting small suits for urban pigeons that disguise them as extinct birds, thereby (visually) re-creating biodiversity and placing a soothing ‘cozy’ on environmental fears.”

The costumes depict birds that went extinct both recently and centuries ago. The last dodos famously disappeared in the 17th century. The last passenger pigeon, a bird named Martha that lived at the Cincinnati Zoo, died in 1914. (Hope’s work was featured in the Smithsonian’s 2014 exhibition The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art, held during the centennial of Martha’s death.) The heath hen, a grassland species that has been the subject of recent de-extinction efforts in Martha’s Vineyard, went extinct in 1932.

A a green and yellow crocheted costume makes a pigeon look like a Carolina parakeet.
Carolina Parakeet, 2009

Two birds in crocheted costumes depicting heath hens appear to interact on top of a rock.
Heath Hens, 2014

A blue and orange crocheted costume makes an urban pigeon look like a passenger pigeon.
Passenger Pigeon II, 2014

Three taxidermied birds are covered in crocheted costumes making them look like extinct species.
From left: Bachman's Warbler, Cuban Red Macaw, Mauritius Blue Pigeon, 2015

Two taxidermied birds covered by colorful crocheted fabric are placed beak-to-beak.
Paradise Parrot and Guadalupe Caracara, 2013

Unfortunately, as she writes on her site, the patterns for the bird suits aren't available to share, so you can't make your own stuffed dodo.

[h/t Boing Boing]

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