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Name: Gavin F.
Status: educator
Age: 20s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Monday, September 30, 2002

I would like to know of a way of measuring the speed and acceleration of flying birds. This would appear to be a straightforward problem but on reflection it is not so easy! In practice radar or laser guns would be difficult to operate and would require the observer to know to angle from bird to device at all times. Using video to measure the time taken for a bird to pass between points a known distance apart would give a measure of speed but not acceleration. So what is the answer, wind tunnels? Is there a simple answer I am missing. Help!


The acceleration of a bird will not be constant, so you have to determine what interval of the flight you wish to measure it for (what you will get is average acceleration over that interval). However, measuring the time of flight for a known distance via video can get you acceleration as well, by breaking up its travel into smaller pieces.

Speed = change in distance/time
Acceleration = change in speed/time = (final - initial speed)/time

First we have to assume that you can get a decent measure of speed- you have known points and the bird flies more or less in a straight line between them. The timing between frames of a video should be constant, so if you have good indicators of distance, you can determine speed for any part of the flight by the distance travelled between frames.

Measuring acceleration from rest is the easiest, since you know initial speed is zero. Measuring from other points will be more difficult, depending on your ability to measure distance and speed accurately from the video.

Don Yee

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