RESEARCHERS at Oxford University have discovered that peregrine falcons steer their attacks using the same control strategies as guided missiles.

The findings, which overturn previous assumptions that peregrines’ aerial hunting follows simple geometric rules, could now be applied to the design of small, visually guided drones that can take down other ‘rogue’ drones in settings such as airports or prisons.

The research, initially funded by the US Air Force Research Laboratory, is giving scientists greater insight into the pursuit behaviours of other predatory species – in the air, in water, or on the ground.

Principal investigator Prof Graham Taylor, of the Oxford Flight Group in Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, said: “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.”

Oxford researchers used miniature GPS receivers to track peregrines attacking targets thrown by a falconer, or towed by a drone.

The researchers collected on-board video giving a falcon’s-eye view of the attacks. They found that the attack trajectories of peregrines follow the same law – known as proportional navigation (PN) – used by visually guided missiles.

Dr Caroline Brighton, from Oxford’s Department of Zoology, said: ‘We spent four field seasons flying falcons in the Welsh hills, working with an experienced falconer and a qualified drone pilot.”