A newly published study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that birds of prey operate essentially like guided missiles.
The Oxford University researchers behind the study attached GPS units and cameras to eight Peregrine falcons, and to various dummies designed to mimic prey animals.
Authors of the study used data from 23 attacks on stationary targets and 22 attacks on moving targets to assess how the falcons aimed their dives.
Rather than calculating the direction a prey might be flying and setting an intercept course, Peregrines select a target and dive towards it in a way that maintains a consistent line-of-sight angle, making adjustments en route as needed.
According to experts, this is an efficient way for a fast and agile creature to target another one, since no information is required on where the target is going or how fast it is moving, the researchers wrote.
The strategy involves maintaining the same angle while closing distance, and making tiny adjustments as needed en route.
Navigation of this kind, known as "proportional navigation," is the same sort of targeting that guided missiles use to track moving targets.
According to commentators, the findings, which overturn previous assumptions that peregrines' aerial hunting follows simple geometric rules, could find application in directing small, visually guided drones to take down other 'rogue' drones in settings such as airports or prisons.
Principal investigator professor Graham Taylor, of the Oxford Flight Group in Oxford University's Department of Zoology, says, ''Falcons are classic aerial predators, synonymous with agility and speed. Our GPS tracks and on-board videos show how peregrine falcons intercept moving targets that don't want to be caught. Remarkably, it turns out that they do this in a similar way to most guided missiles. Our next step is to apply this research to designing a new kind of visually guided drone, able to remove rogue drones safely from the vicinity of airports, prisons and other no-fly zones.''