Taxidermy Birds Can Be Used as Drones for Spying on Wildlife—and People

Drones disguised within the zombified dead bodies of animals, designed to sneakily spy on animals, may also be used to keep an eye on people.

At the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech 2023 Forum, researchers from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology presented their recent findings that dead birds could be used to make drones appear more natural, combining wing-flapping mechanics with the real body of a bird.

"Instead of using artificial materials for building drones, we can use the dead birds and re-engineer them as a drone," lead author Mostafa Hassanalian, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at New Mexico Tech, told New Scientist.

taxidermy buzzard
Stock image of a taxidermy buzzard, a bird of prey. Taxidermy birds are being developed as drones to aid in disguise for observing wildlife and people. iStock / Getty Images Plus

While these bird-masquerading drones are meant to observe wildlife without disturbing them with clearly mechanical hardware, the researchers also said that they could be used by governments or militaries to spy on human subjects.

"By using 3D flapping and aerodynamic simulators, limits of aerodynamic flapping characteristics could be set for the drone for a specific set of wings," the authors wrote in a summary of the paper. "This allowed the implementation of flapping mechanisms and testing of the aerodynamics of the flapping wing drone."

Drones that mimic animal body plans are being developed all around the world, using body plans that have been shaped by evolution to make drones for certain functions. Animal Dynamics, a technology start-up in the U.K., is developing dragonfly-inspired drones, while TU Delft is developing the DelFly, which uses the wing movement of fruit flies.

Drones that look like birds have been previously used in wildlife conservation: Weeze Airport in Germany began using a mechanical hawk in 2016 to scare away birds that might otherwise fly into and damage the engines of airplanes. This technique is also used to scare birds away from power lines and waste management plants.

As well as the camouflage element, the researchers described how using real bird bodies rather than mimicking them artificially is physically advantageous, as the lightweight bodies and flexible feathers of birds allows drones to maneuver more efficiently. However, in their current form, the drones can only flap their "wings", so are a long way off the full behavioral repertoire that makes birds so elegant and agile.

The researchers also said in their presentation that some of their taxidermy drones' gear parts could be changed to make them quieter and help them last longer, and that by making the joints of these drones increasingly bendable, the drones' wings would be more flexible in flight.

"Adding different flight options to the drone could yield an easier user experience and aid in a more natural flight," the authors wrote. "A final improvement would be to add legs so that the drone can perch and monitor without using much battery."

Do you have a tip on a science story that Newsweek should be covering? Do you have a question about animal-inspired drones? Let us know via