Avian Sensor Packages for Meteorological Measurements

Richard Thomas, Angus Mackenzie, Silas Reynolds, Jonathan Sadler, Ford Cropley, Simon Bell, Stephen Dugdale, Lee Chapman, Andrew Quinn, Xiaoming Cai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
176 Downloads (Pure)


The increasing miniaturization of accurate, reliable meteorological sensors and logging systems allows the deployment of sensor packages on lightweight airborne platforms. Here, we demonstrate the safe and humane use of avian species (White-tailed and Spanish Imperial Eagles) to carry a prototype miniature sensor package to measure temperature with a 5 Hz response and ± 0.2°C resolution. This technique could allow sensor deployment above complex urban terrain where such data are urgently required. Recent meteorological work has been facilitated by using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), but their use within,
and adjacent to, urban areas is heavily controlled. The package contains a wind-speed sensor, a GPS, pressure altimeter, and accelerometers. Four flight tests were conducted in a steep valley (glen) at a remote Scottish location, which provided contrasting vertical temperature profiles. The glen was instrumented with additional meteorological equipment at the bird launch and landing sites. Vertical temperature profile data from the raptors indicated the success of this approach with absolute temperatures and lapse rates consistent with those measured by the weather stations. Movement and air-speed data aided interpretation of fine-scale temperature profiles in complex terrain. As well as the potential for meteorological sensing, this work is of interest to the avian ecology and behaviour communities, and aerodynamicists interested in developing airborne robotics to mimic aspects of bird flight. These sensors are being miniaturized further for deployment on other bird species in urban areas for rapid, repeatable and reliable measurements, with the potential to fulfil a measurement niche above the urban canopy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)499-511
Number of pages13
JournalBulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Issue number3
Early online date26 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


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