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The dark-adapted bird


The cave-dwelling oilbird has evolved an array of super-sharp senses for living in the darkness


Oilbirds flying in a cave.
Oilbirds flying in a cave.
University of Southern Denmark

The oilbird (Steatornis caripensis) lives in colonies in caves in the north of South America. The birds prefer the darkness – when they leave the caves to find fruit to eat, it is at night.

To live in this dark environment, oilbirds not only have extremely sensitive vision but also an excellent sense of smell, bristles near the beak for tactile sensation, and – like bats and some marine mammals – the ability to use echolocation to hear the contours of their surroundings.

Each of these senses is a powerful tool, but they become even more powerful in combination.

A new study published in Royal Society Open Science shows that they adjust their echolocation techniques depending on the amount of light available so that vision and echolocation work together to produce information about the bird’s surroundings.

The researchers believe a similar combination of vision and echolocation could help drones navigate in low-light conditions.

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Curated content from the editorial staff at Cosmos Magazine.
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