Birds Versus Airplanes: A Comparison of Aerial Acrobatics

Barn SwallowAnd the winner is BIRDS of course!  Pitting technology against nature is, for lack of a better word, natural.  It seems to be a constant struggle that we as humans have undergone and continue to engage in at our instinctual behest to top the animal kingdom and control the environment.  Just look around and you will see the war we have waged to bind the elements in all their positive and negative glories.

But even with our most ancient of dreams coming true thanks to two Wrights, we still cannot claim a mastery of the air.  And I’m glad to say that honor still belongs to the birds.  With trillions of dollars and countless hours, no aircraft can come close to the average bird’s acrobatic maneuverability.  Plus, birds rarely crash!

So let’s take a look at the aerial abilities of birds and airplanes:

Travel Speed (body lengths/second)

Aircraft

  • 32 body lengths/sec (supersonic SR-71 Blackbird)
    Note: Traveling near Mach 3 or approximately 2000 mph

SR-71 BlackbirdBirds

  • 75 body lengths/sec  (Common Pigeon)
  • 120 body lengths/sec  (Common Starling)
  • 140 body lengths/sec  (swifts)
Roll Rate (degrees/second)

Aircraft

  • 720 degrees/second (A-4 Skyhawk)

Birds

  • 5000 degrees/second (Barn Swallow)
G forces allowed

European StarlingAircraft

  • 4-5 Gs (general aircraft)
  • 8-10 Gs (select military aircraft)

Birds

  • 10-14 Gs (many bird species)
    Note: performed hundreds of times per day

About The Author

Scott serves as Director of Development & Communications for Audubon Canyon Ranch (focusing on preservation, education and conservation science) and has almost fifteen years of experience spanning for-profit and nonprofit sectors in biotech, wildlife conservation and management, communications, and philanthropy. In addition to a strong track record in organizational growth and leadership, he is the founder of Urban Bird Foundation and Burrowing Owl Conservation Network, and presided over ECHO Fund, a coastal protection and restoration organization, as President for four years. Scott holds an M.A. in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Sustainable Development and Policy, degrees in Micro & Molecular Biology and Environmental Sciences, and has complemented his studies with a Master's certificate in Environmental Resource Management.

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