Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Biology
Cliff Swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) are highly maneuverable social birds that often forage and fly in large open spaces. Here I used multi-camera videography to measure the three dimensional kinematics of their natural flight maneuvers in the field. Specifically, I collected data on tandem flights, defined as two birds maneuvering together. These data allowed me to evaluate several hypotheses on their maneuvering flight performance. High speed turns were roll-based, but the magnitude of the centripetal force created in typical maneuvers varied only slightly with flight speed. In tandem flight the following bird copied the flight path and wingbeat frequency of the lead bird while maintaining position slightly above the leader. The lead bird tended to turn in a direction away from the lateral position of the following bird. Tandem flights vary widely in speed and duration and no single tracking strategy appeared to explain the course taken by the following bird.