Lures for Birds of Prey

My first actual 9-5 job building robots was at the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. They are a nonprofit that studies birds of prey. They have two main areas that they focus on. The first is called hawk watch, where they have a group of volunteers who count how many of each species of bird are seen each day. The second area of focus is their banding program where they catch birds of prey, measure various things about them, put a band on their leg and let them go again.

I worked with the banding program and was tasked with designing devices that might attract hawks and falcons so that they could be caught. I was given considerable freedom to try things and tried many different things for the two and a half years that I was there. In the end, I had some level of success but it just couldn't compare (30% as effective) to how much a hawk might be attracted to a real prey item. This job really made me appreciate how complex something like a sparrow really is. It has been about ten years now since I last worked there but there still isn't a viable technology that could be a suitable substitute for muscle tissue for that application. The best mechanism that I came up with, as far as effectiveness was concerned, was just a simple flapping mechanism that flapped the wings of a pigeon-sized lure up and down.

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