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Do birds obey the speed limit?

22 August 2013

Do birds obey the speed limit?

"Birds can adapt their response to traffic according to the speed limit of the road, rather than the speed of the cars."

That was the sentence that shocked Five Live presenter Tony Livesey into obvious incredulity as Dr Sarah Perkins from the School of Biosciences appeared on Radio Five Live's breakfast show on August 21 to comment on a new paper, just published in the Royal Society Biology Letters Journal

Listen to Tony's reaction here:

Dr Perkins went on to explain that the research led by Pierre Legagneux, from Laval University in Canada discovered that it's a behavioural adaptation so the birds become accustomed to the fact that roads have different speed limits. Their flight initiation distance is judged by the speed limit on each road, so they know they have more time to get out of the way in a 30mph road, then they would on a faster dual carriageway or motorway where the speed limit would be 60mph or 70mph.

Therefore cars that exceed the speed limit are bad news for birds as our feathered friends do not adapt to how fast cars are actually going. The birds will be reacting based on the correct speed limit, and not the actual speed of individual cars, potentially resulting in more roadkill!

Roadkill is something which is central to Dr Perkins' own current research, the aptly named Project Splatter - a survey of UK wildlife roadkill, which aims to build a comprehensive picture of all the animal species being killed and where in particular it is happening. To find out more, visit the Project Splatter website.

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