Eagles collapse wings to deal with turbulence
Graham Taylor

Eagles collapse wings to deal with turbulence

Scientists have questioned how birds manage to fly in turbulent and windy skies that keep our airplanes grounded for some time, and now, thanks to a 75-gram flight recorder and an eagle named Cossack (pictured), they may have their answer. GPS data combined with analysis of acceleration, rotation rate, and airspeed revealed that the secret to the birds’ success may be their collapsible wings. The results, published online today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, show that in times of turbulence, the birds tuck their wings beneath their bodies for a fraction of a second to avoid being blown off course—a technique that our fixed-wing aircraft will unfortunately not be emulating any time soon. The “wing tuck” technique is typically employed as the birds cross over rising patches of warm air, which any good glider pilot knows are usually the most turbulent. Tucking dulls the jolting and is thought to reduce strain on the birds’ muscles, allowing them to soar longer before fatiguing.