Lovebirds avoid flying blind spots
Published 24/06/2015 | 19:11
Lovebirds rotate their heads at lightning fast speeds to avoid blind spots when making rapid turns in flight, research has shown.
High speed video showed the colourful birds turning their heads with jerky movements, or saccades, reaching rotational velocities of up to 2,700 degrees per second.
That is faster than any head movements seen in other vertebrates, and on a par with those of insects.
The head turns are made precisely when the birds' wings are covering their eyes, reducing periods of obscured vision to a fraction of a second.
During most of the turning manoeuvre, the birds' vision is kept stable and clear.
Lessons from the lovebirds could be used to improve drone camera design, the researchers believe.
The scientists studied five lovebirds that were taught to make rapid U-turns in an enclosed "flight arena".
At the same time they were filmed using two cameras running at 2,000 frames per second.
The researchers, whose findings appear in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE, were led by Dr Daniel Kress from the University of Stanford in the US.
They wrote: "Lovebirds performing a rapid 'turn on a dime' manoeuvre shift their gaze between arena features. These gaze shifts reach on average 930 degrees per second with peaks up to 2,690 degrees per second, the fastest recorded saccades for vertebrates to date.
"This speed compares to the saccade speeds reported for flying insects that are up to three orders of magnitudes lighter than lovebirds.
" These extraordinarily fast turns are made possible by the highly specialised avian neck system, of which the muscles contract effectively as fast as the flight muscles. Between saccades, lovebirds stabilise their head towards prominent arena features."