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Avian sensor packages for meteorological measurements

Thomas, Rick M.; MacKenzie, A. Rob; Reynolds, S. James; Sadler, Jonathan P.; Cropley, Ford; Bell, Simon; Dugdale, Stephen J.; Chapman, Lee; Quinn, Andrew; Cai, Xiaoming

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Rick M. Thomas

A. Rob MacKenzie

S. James Reynolds

Jonathan P. Sadler

Ford Cropley

Simon Bell

Lee Chapman

Andrew Quinn

Xiaoming Cai


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, a pressure altimeter, and accelerometers. Four flight tests were conducted in a steep valley (glen) at a remote Scottish location that 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 airspeed data aided the interpretation of finescale temperature profiles in complex terrain. As well as the potential for meteorological sensing, this work is of interest to the avian ecology and behavior communities and to 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 fulfill a measurement niche above the urban canopy.


Thomas, R. M., MacKenzie, A. R., Reynolds, S. J., Sadler, J. P., Cropley, F., Bell, S., …Cai, X. (2018). Avian sensor packages for meteorological measurements. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 99(3), 499-511.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 15, 2017
Online Publication Date Apr 19, 2018
Publication Date Mar 30, 2018
Deposit Date Nov 23, 2018
Publicly Available Date Nov 23, 2018
Journal Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Electronic ISSN 1520-0477
Publisher American Meteorological Society
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 99
Issue 3
Pages 499-511
Public URL
Publisher URL


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