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Fast and furious: The real lives of swallows

These avian acrobats are teaching scientists how to build better drones

By
10:30am, January 24, 2015
Doug Warrick with drone

FANCY FLIERS  Biophysicist Douglas Warrick tracks radiotagged barn swallows near an Oregon farm.

For more on small drones inspired by birds and other flying animals, see SN's feature "Flying animals can teach drones a thing or two."

Last summer, biophysicist Douglas Warrick spent eight hours each day patiently sitting on the fence of an Oregon cattle farm. Pointing an alienlike metal wand toward a field, he waited. The rod was a special antenna designed to listen for very small radiotags. Earlier that week, Warrick and his team from Oregon State University had glued these tiny trackers, weighing less than a third of a gram, to 120 barn swallows (Hirundo rustica).

“These birds are the absolute extreme when it comes to flight performance,” Warrick says. “They're at the cutting edge for what can happen with an avian body plan in terms of flight, yet so much of their behavior remains

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