They might look like big lanky birds, but new research published in the journal Current Biology, is showing that these snake-hunters use the force of 195 Newtons- this is equivalent to five times their own body weight- to attack with, and the contact time between the bird’s feet and the snake is delivered extremely quickly, on average just 15 milliseconds. Basically, they’re more badass than anyone ever thought before.
Scientists from Royal Holloway, University of London, the Royal Veterinary College and the Hawk Conservancy Trust have all been studying the kicks of a bird called Madeleine, kept at the Hawk Conservancy Trust in Hampshire. Madeleine was trained to attack a rubber snake to demonstrate the hunting techniques of this type of bird. The scientists made their measurements by dragging his prey over concealed force plates.
As Secretary Birds hunt venomous snakes, a missed strike could have deadly consequences so the birds are capable of delivering fast, forceful and accurate foot strikes that are sufficient to stun and kill prey.
These researchers say that studying such extreme examples of animal movement could help design fast-moving robot limbs or prosthetics.
“The study of animal locomotion has uncovered principles that can be applied to bio-inspired robotics, prosthetics and rehabilitation medicine, while also providing insight into musculoskeletal form and function. In particular, study of extreme behaviors can reveal mechanical constraints and trade-offs that have influenced evolution of limb form and function. Secretary birds (Sagittarius serpentarius) are large terrestrial birds of prey endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, which feed on snakes, lizards and small mammals. They frequently kick and stamp on the prey’s head until it is killed or incapacitated, particularly when dispatching larger lizards and venomous snakes. The consequences of a missed strike when hunting venomous snakes can be deadly, so the kicking strikes of secretary birds require fast yet accurate neural control. Delivery of fast, forceful and accurate foot strikes that are sufficient to stun and kill prey requires precision targeting, demanding a high level of coordination between the visual and neuromuscular systems.” -Current Biology, Volume 26, Issue 2, pR58–R59, 25 January 2016
Happy Flyday ~^v^~