Birds and humans don’t always co-exist peacefully — each year millions of the small animals fly into buildings, wind turbines, cell towers, and even planes. William & Mary behavioral biologist John Swaddle is working to translate understanding of bird behavior into technology that could hopefully save their lives, including an Acoustic Lighthouse that would guide birds around man-made structures.


Here’s how an acoustic lighthouse might work: a directional speaker mounted on a structure like a wind turbine would project a sound warning birds. While flying, birds align their bodies on a horizontal plane for ideal aerodynamics, according to Swaddle. And as their eyes are on the sides of their heads, they’re looking down, not where they’re flying. The sound would essentially prompt them to slow down, and when slowing down, birds lower their tail feathers, moving their bodies “from the horizontal plane to a more vertical position,” according to William & Mary, so they can see the structure and soar around it. Swaddle said, “It’s a bit like someone texting while they’re driving. If you honk your horn at them, they’ll look up.”

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Related: Painting Wind Turbines Black Could Prevent Thousands of Bird Deaths Every Year

“The fundamental knowledge of how birds behave and respond to sound helps us derive these new technologies and solutions,” said Swaddle. He’s also developed a concept called Sonic Nets, intended to disrupt gatherings of birds in places like airports, parking lots, or crop fields.

John Swaddle, William & Mary, behavioral biologist, scientist, man, nature

Swaddle recently spoke at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting on reducing strike risk between birds and wind turbines and airplanes, and protecting crops, through an understanding of bird behavior. The journal Integrative and Comparative Biology published a paper written by Swaddle and former William & Mary graduate student Nicole Ingrassia on the acoustic lighthouse concept in 2017.

+ William & Mary

Via Science Magazine

Images via Depositphotos, courtesy Stephen Salpukas/William & Mary, and via William & Mary video screengrab

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