Credit: Christian Aussaguel

Soaring birds equipped with sensors that track their location could be used to estimate weather variables such as wind speed.

Jelle Treep at the University of Amsterdam and his team analysed Global Positioning System (GPS) data from four griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus; pictured) as the birds flew across the Grand Causses region of southern France. By tracking the birds' in-flight location at three-second intervals and using knowledge of airborne bird movements, the team estimated wind speed and direction and vertical air movement. These GPS estimates agreed with ground data at three local weather stations and were consistent with meteorological theories.

As GPS equipment becomes smaller, lighter and able to collect higher-resolution data, bird-borne trackers could become an important tool for meteorological surveys in remote areas, the authors say.

Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. (2015)