When it comes to flight, the budgie, Melopsittacus undulatus, is capable of two distinct speeds. moving through the gears at will. Previously, it was generally expected that the birds would accelerate and decelerate their flight in a similar manner to bees and other flying insects. But lead author of a new study, Ingo Schiffner, had a hunch that this may not be the case.
The budgies were filmed whilst flying down a selection of different tunnels. Some tunnels were large and straight and others involved degrees of tapering. The scientists generally found no problem motivating the budgies to fly, particularly if the course was more interesting. If a little extra persuasion was needed the researchers found that the simple addition of another budgie at the end of the tunnel was enough to encourage flight in this extremely social bird.
“Budgies are after all very social birds and will always seek out the company of another bird,” Schiffner explained to Biosphere.
Two types of budgie flight
Surprisingly, the study found two distinct speeds of flight. These were not exchanged gradually but rather instantly switched between. Birds were able to anticipate an impending change in tunnel width and switch to a slow speed to allow for ample navigation time. The ecological benefits of such flight would allow for energy efficient high speed flight to take place in large open spaces whilst still providing a “lower gear” for safe manoeuvring of difficult obstacles.
This study looked only at budgies, so further research into other species may show they have different flights speeds available, depending on the nature of the bird. Migratory species with their need for impressive stamina, for example, may have different abilities to predatory species which require explosive bursts of speed to hunt.
This research led Schiffner to the suggestion that many captive birds do not have sufficient space to reach their cruising speed. His budgies required a 30 metre tunnel to achieve this. This is certainly outside the realms for the average home aviary.
Schiffner is hopeful that the research can have practical applications. “Understanding how birds perceive the world around them, and move through it, can help improve designing buildings that minimize the risk of bird collisions.”
Schiffner, I., & Srinivasan, M. V. (2016). Budgerigar flight in a varying environment: flight at distinct speeds?. Biology Letters, 12(6), 20160221.