Computer simulations of Peregrine Falcon attacks show the extreme speeds reached during dives from high altitudes enhances the raptor’s ability to execute maneuvers to nab agile prey.
University of Groningen, Netherlands, and Oxford University, UK, report this discovery in PLOS Computational Biology.
By attaching video cameras and GPS trackers on a Peregrine Falcon, research shows that falcons attack their prey using the same steering rules as human-made missiles.
But it was unknown why Peregrine Falcons catch prey by diving from great heights at speeds faster than any other animal.
Such risky behavior places extraordinary physical and cognitive demands on the falcon.
Peregrine Falcons’ Secret to Winning the Arms Race Against Prey
To investigate the Peregrine’s dive strategy, researchers built a physics-based computer simulation of bird flight that pits falcons against prey.
The simulation incorporates:
-the aerodynamics of bird flight
-how birds flap and tuck their wings
-how falcons perceive their prey and react to it with delay
-how falcons target their prey like a missile.
Researchers ran the simulation millions of times.
Each time varying the falcon’s attack strategy each time show that high-speed dives enable Peregrines to produce much higher aerodynamic forces for maneuvering.
And maximizes their chance of seizing agile prey.
The simulation shows high-speed dives require very precisely tuned steering for a falcon to attack successfully, revealing that the stoop is a highly specialist hunting technique.
Optimal tuning of the mathematical laws controlling steering in the simulation correspond closely to measurements of steering for real falcons.
Raptor’s Unique Attack Strategies
Researchers are extending their simulation to explore why different raptor species, including the Goshawk and the Sparrow Hawk, have unique attack strategies.
They are also studying the best escape tactics that prey can employ to evade capture.
The simulations reveal why Peregrines have evolved to dive from great heights, and at speeds faster than any other animal.
Ultimately, researchers can understand the arms race between aerial predators and their prey that has led raptors to become some of the fastest and most agile animals on Earth.