Watch: How barn owls fly in rough winds

A barn owl’s wings morph during flight to cope with gusts of wind. Credit: Cheney et al 2020

Analysis of slow-motion video has revealed how some birds adapt to flying in rough winds. In a study, published recently Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers show how barn owls (Tyto alba) manage to fly close to buildings or other terrain features and cope with sudden wind direction changes. They found that the owls, including one they named Lily, morph the shape of their wings in mid-flight. “Lily flew through the bumpy gusts and consistently kept her head and torso amazingly stable over the trajectory, as if she was flying with a suspension system,” said lead-author Jorn Cheney from the Royal Veterinary College in a press release. “When we analyzed it, what surprised us was that the suspension-system effect wasn’t just due to aerodynamics, but benefited from the mass in her wings.” The study is the first of several steps in developing bio-inspired suspension systems for aircraft.

Read the study at Proceedings of the Royal Society B.