Einstein Couldn’t Figure How the Drinking Bird Worked

By Anupum Pant


DrinkingBirdThe Drinking Bird is a toy which almost every one of us has heard of. If you haven’t, may be this picture of it rings a bell. Otherwise, it is a funny looking bird-head made of felt, mounted atop a glass or plastic straw, with a little bulb at its lowest point. The whole contraption is suspended at two points, which allows it to swing smoothly like a pendulum – drinking water at regular intervals, from a glass, for ever.

The amusing thing about this little toy is that, once it starts, it keeps swinging and “drinking” for ever. Upon giving it a cursory look, it seems to be a perfect perpetual machine – a contraption that can run indefinitely without an external source of energy. In reality, it isn’t a perpetual motion machine. There is a complex physical and chemical activity going on inside the toy, which keeps the simple heat engine running forever without a battery – Something so complex to deduct, that even one of the greatest Physicist ever, Albert Einstein himself couldn’t figure out the correct mechanism that keeps it running.

Don’t worry, it isn’t as difficult to understand the mechanism.

How does it work?

Assuming you have properly understood the parts of the toy, you will notice that the little bulb at the bottom of it has a colored liquid in it. This colored liquid is a chemical called Methylene chloride – A chemical that dissolves caffeine and can be used to decaffeinate coffee, teas and colas. The special property of this chemical which makes the toy work is its extremely low boiling point. It has a high vapor pressure at room temperature.

At room temperature the vapor pressure in the tube and head is high. The fluid remains in the bulb and the bird is upright due to the weight of the fluid.

The first thing you do is, you make its head dip in water. That way, the head made of felt absorbs water. The water cools due to evaporation (like our sweat cools our body), drops the temperature of the head and the bird comes up.

While swinging in the upright position, as the head cools further, the vapor pressure at the head decreases, while the pressure at the bulb becomes relatively higher. This causes the chemical to rise up the tube and it changes the center of gravity (CG). Due to the change in CG the bird tips its head back into the water.

Absorbs water and the process starts once again. It keeps on going till the bird can no longer reach the low water level. You, then have to fill up the reservoir.

Source of energy?

There is a lot going on in the toy so it isn’t really easy to point a single source of energy. However, it is pretty clear that the bird isn’t a perpetual motion machine. Anyway, watch the insightful video now. The simple toy is indeed a beautiful thing to marvel about. [Video]

Ultimate Problem Solving by a Crow

By Anupum Pant


I know I wrote about how smart crows can be a few days back, but even when I wasn’t particularly searching for amazing crow videos, I happened to stumble upon an astounding video of a crow solving some puzzle. I was so blown away by this, that I couldn’t resist sharing another crow post in under two weeks. Hold your hats because this crow, nicknamed 007 will blow them off your heads.

Side note: Want to see a chimpanzee blow your mind? Watch him do a task that more than 95% of the humans wouldn’t be able to do as well as he can do it. – [Working Memory – Chimpanzees vs. Humans]

Alex studies wild birds which he releases after 3 months of research. This one is nicknamed 007 and it is about to attempt what Alex believes is one of the most complex tests for the animal mind ever constructed. The bird is familiar with the individual objects, but this is the first time he is seeing them arranged like this.

This video comes from a BBC show called ‘Inside the Animal Mind‘ hosted by Chris Packham. [Video]

In the video, a wild crow, previously not having learnt anything about the 8-part arrangement of the puzzle, manages to solve it with ease. I would have taken some time to figure out the solution.

8-Part sequence

  1. The crow pulls out a small piece of stick from a thread.
  2. It then approaches a box containing a piece of food and figures that it would need a longer stick to get it. It moves on with the smaller stick to take a stone out of another box.
  3. Takes out another stone
  4. And one more
  5. Drops one of the three stones in a box which needs the weight of all three to release a longer stick.
  6. Drops the second.
  7. And the third. The longer stick is released. It takes the long stick.
  8. Finally, the crow uses the longer stick to pull out food from the box mentioned in second point.

How I try to believe it

Although when I say that the crow wasn’t aware of the arrangement, I mean to say that it wasn’t aware of the sequence in which the puzzle was meant to be solved. It seems as if it was trained with the individual tasks.

I’m guessing that the crow was trained for some time to complete the individual tasks separately and not in a particular sequence. The 8-part sequence was probably shown to it for the first time. I may be wrong. But, I think when the speaker says, “The bird is familiar with the individual objects“, my interpretation makes sense.

If I’m wrong, I yield and state that crows are just too intelligent and are going to take over the world in a few hundred years.

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Tiger Fish Jumps Out of Water and Catches Flying Birds

By Anupum Pant

It is normal for birds to swoop down and catch fish from water. But, since 1940s, stories about a meter-long-demonic-African-fish leaping out of water to catch birds in mid-air have been told. They were only stories; no one had seen the actual occurrence…Until now.

Recently, a video of it happening was captured by a team of researchers from North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa, and was posted on YouTube. As expected, the video went viral. Who wouldn’t love watching a fish-eating a bird! I put it on repeat and must have watched it 10 times already.

In the video you see a Tiger fish (Hydrocynus vittatus – literally means a ‘spotted water dog’) that lives in African fresh waters. It is one of the largest predators there and lives with a larger cousin, the Giant Tiger fish (Hydrocynus goliath). The Tiger fish can measure as much as 1 meter in length. On the other hand, giant tiger fish (not seen here) can reach up to 1.5 meters in length.

Taking shots around the South African lake in the Mapungubwe National Park, they were not really expecting to record a video in which a fish would fly out of the water and catch a swallow. Rather they were there to study migration and habitat at the lake. The team was surprised to see this. The director said:

“The whole action of jumping and catching the swallow in flight happens so incredibly quickly that after we first saw it, it took all of us a while to really fully comprehend what we had just seen.”

Given that a fish in water, or even human beings for that matter, cannot see beyond a specific window (The Underwater Optical Man-hole), this fish does an amazing job of tracking and striking a bird in mid-flight with so much precision. Cheers for that Mr. Tiger Fish.

Agreed the video isn’t clear, but it the first of its kind. Soon, I hope, we’ll see HD, NatGeo quality videos. Watch it on video here: [Video]