It took a customized headpiece to monitor when and how much a grackle blinked in flight.
When Jessica Yorzinski chased great-tailed grackles across a field, it wasn’t a contest to see who blinked first. But she did want the birds to blink.
Dr. Yorzinski had outfitted the grackles, which look a bit like crows but are in another family of birds, with head-mounted cameras pointing back at their faces. Like other birds, grackles blink sideways, flicking a semitransparent membrane across the eye. Recordings showed that the birds spent less time blinking during the riskiest parts of a flight. The finding was published Wednesday in Biology Letters.
Dr. Yorzinski, a sensory ecologist in the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology at Texas A&M University, had been wondering how animals balance their need to blink with their need to get visual information about their environments.