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Issue no. 100 | April 2021

Cover story

Flight Formations:
Mystery and mechanics of synchronised flight of birds

On seeing a flock comprising of a few dozen pigeons turning left or right simultaneously mid-air like the soldiers on parade-ground, a question might have cropped up in your mind: What is making each pigeon of the flock turn in the same direction at the same time? This is an age-old question for the ornithologists because its answer has remained elusive despite decades of observation and research. When a British ornithologist named Edmund Selos ascribed fine tuned mid-air manoeuvring to telepathy in the decade of 1930’s, nobody took him seriously but the findings of experiments conducted by two German ornithologists recently have revived interest in the explanation given by Selos.

Both these researchers of Munich University filmed flocks of various species of gregarious birds flying and converted their images into digital dots on the computer screen. Flocks of birds like gull, pigeon, duck, goose etc., were converted in the form of different coloured dots in this manner. Thereafter, using special software the researchers timed their movements. The software recorded any change in each dot’s position in milliseconds starting from zero. 

More interesting articles

Hitch-hiking plant and animal colonists

At 5:30 on the morning of August 27, 1883, the residents of Batavia (now Jakarta), were jolted awake by an enormous blast. It was followed by a few more. They sounded like salvos of cannon fire. By evening, the rumbling had swelled to a thunderous roar. Houses began to shake and windows shattered. People fled their homes in panic. The infamous volcano of Krakatoa island, lying in the Sunda Strait between Sumatra and Java had again lost its temper as it has done several times in the past.

The endlessly fascinating history of cricket ball

The bowler has come round the wicket to bowls a wrong’un, bowling-out the batsman, who perhaps could not read the turn of the ball. It’s been picked up by the keeper and throw in under-arm to the bowler. These terms, in one way or another, relate to the globular body which has left a long trail of history behind it.

Believed to have been developed in England more than 800 years ago, cricket’s Stone Age was exactly that: its 13th century progenitors played the first matches using stones for balls and tree branches as primitive bats.

Drinking behaviour of animals and birds

For many animals finding something to drink is one of the basic challenges of life. In extreme cases, the problem is so difficult that some animals have given up drinking altogether, obtaining their liquid in other ways.

Come summer and our refrigerators start getting loaded with chilled water bottles, juices, ice creams, candies, soda, cold drinks, etc., to beat the heat. But what do creatures like the squirrel, pigeon, giraffe, lion, elephant, etc., do to have some respite from the summer heat? 


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