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Science News Staff

Science Ticker

Science Ticker

How pigeons bob and weave through obstacles

rock pigeon

Pigeons weigh danger, stability and efficiency in the aerial acrobatics they use to avoid obstacles, study shows.

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To dodge obstacles, pigeons have to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. By altering their wing posture, the birds can successfully navigate tight spots, researchers report March 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences.

Harvard University researchers filmed and modeled the flight dynamics of wild rock pigeons (Columbia livia) as they flew through a series of plastic poles. The pigeons adopted a folded wing posture, giving them greater stability, when they had to traverse smaller gaps between poles. Faced with wider gaps, they opted instead for a more energy efficient position, holding their wings high as they flapped upward. The birds seem to weigh their options depending on the relative danger of the obstacle course, the researchers conclude.

For more insights into the flight patterns of pigeons and other flying animals, read SN’s feature on how animal flight research is inspiring novel drones.

Meanwhile, watch pigeons' dodging skills in action below.

HOLD IT OR FOLD IT  To avoid obstacles, pigeons either hold their normal wing posture or fold their wings in.

Credit: Courtesy of Ariah Kidder


Despite risks, vaccine delay requests are common

By Nathan Seppa 4:47pm, March 2, 2015
A survey of pediatricians and family doctors finds parents frequently put off vaccines for babies even though doctors warn it can place the children at risk of illness.
Plants,, Climate

Plant growth patterns changing on much of Earth’s surface

By Kate Baggaley 3:40pm, March 2, 2015
More than half of Earth’s land surface has seen major changes in factors such as leaf-on date and how much vegetation grows in a season.
Evolution,, Microbiology

Superfast evolution observed in soil bacteria

By Helen Thompson 9:00am, February 27, 2015
Natural selection resurrects flagella in soil bacteria in just four days.
Health,, Science & Society

CDC panel gives thumbs up to vaccine against nine HPV types

By Nathan Seppa 6:44pm, February 26, 2015
A federal vaccine advisory committee voted February 26 to recommend use of an expanded version of the human papillomavirus shot marketed as Gardasil.
Planetary Science

Mysterious bright spot on Ceres has a partner

By Christopher Crockett 2:45pm, February 26, 2015
A new image from the Dawn spacecraft finds two bright patches within a basin, possibly caused by an ice volcano.

Some cicadas drum up a beat with the help of their wings

By Allison Bohac 2:00pm, February 25, 2015
By using their wings as drumsticks, so-called “mute” cicadas can make themselves heard.
Computing,, Technology,, Numbers

Artificial intelligence conquers Space Invaders, Pong, Q*bert

By Lila Guterman 1:09pm, February 25, 2015
With a single algorithm, a computer can learn dozens of classic video games, researchers from Google DeepMind in London report.
Biomedicine,, Cells

Stem cells from wisdom teeth could help repair corneas

By Helen Thompson 12:55pm, February 24, 2015
A study points to a potential new treatment for corneal blindness: Stem cells extracted from pulp from pulled wisdom teeth.
Chemistry,, Science & Society

Brute-force chemistry study retracted

By Beth Mole 2:00pm, February 19, 2015
The journal Science has retracted a notable 2011 chemistry study in which authors reported a brawny method to break sturdy chemical structures.
Planetary Science

New Horizons spies two of Pluto’s moons

By Christopher Crockett 1:16pm, February 19, 2015
Nix and Hydra come into view on the 85th anniversary of Pluto’s discovery.
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