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Going the Distance

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Science  28 Jan 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6016, pp. 395-397
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6016.395

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A $9.3 million grant has bought a group of researchers at the University of Western Ontario in Canada a state-of-the-art bird research facility, complete with aviaries, surgery room, a bird-sized magnetic resonance imaging machine, and a $1.5 million wind tunnel, the only one in the world in which temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure can be controlled. A year old, the tunnel presents researchers with an unprecedented opportunity to probe the mysteries of migration in exquisite detail. But money can't buy birds that are keen to fly in a wind tunnel, and the team has had mixed success finding willing avian partners. An early project using starlings did well, despite taking place when the tunnel was not quite finished. It netted "Super," a bird that always cooperates and will even fly into the wind tunnel on its own accord. But a study involving robins took months to identify five somewhat cooperative fliers; switching to Swainson's thrushes worked better. One immunological project involving a shorebird called a ruff is stranded because the birds show no inclination to take to the air. And the researchers have just started testing warblers to see if high-protein or high-carbohydrate diets make a difference in energy use during flight.

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