Turbulence explains the accelerations of an eagle in natural flight

Kasey M. Laurent, Bob Fogg, Tobias Ginsburg, Casey Halverson, Michael J. Lanzone, Tricia A. Miller, David W. Winkler, Gregory P. Bewley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Turbulent winds and gusts fluctuate on a wide range of timescales from milliseconds to minutes and longer, a range that overlaps the timescales of avian flight behavior, yet the importance of turbulence to avian behavior is unclear. By combining wind speed data with the measured accelerations of a golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) flying in the wild, we find evidence in favor of a linear relationship between the eagle's accelerations and atmospheric turbulence for timescales between about 1/2 and 10 s. These timescales are comparable to those of typical eagle behaviors, corresponding to between about 1 and 25 wingbeats, and to those of turbulent gusts both larger than the eagle's wingspan and smaller than large-scale atmospheric phenomena such as convection cells. The eagle's accelerations exhibit power spectra and intermittent activity characteristic of turbulence and increase in proportion to the turbulence intensity. Intermittency results in accelerations that are occasionally several times stronger than gravity, which the eagle works against to stay aloft. These imprints of turbulence on the bird's movements need to be further explored to understand the energetics of birds and other volant life-forms, to improve our own methods of flying through ceaselessly turbulent environments, and to engage airborne wildlife as distributed probes of the changing conditions in the atmosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2102588118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number23
StatePublished - Jun 8 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Bird
  • Flight
  • Golden eagle
  • Turbulence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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