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"I suspect that religion is a necessary evil in the childhood of our particular species. And that's one of the interesting things about contact with other intelligences: we could see what role, if any, religion plays in their development."
- Arthur C. Clarke

Tracer-Bird  
  A prototype surveillance drone; a mechanical bird.  

In the novel, Mark Marakson (engineering nerd) comes into conflict with Pol Detson (of magical heritage). To spy on Pol, Mark creates and uses technology based on nature's hunting birds.

The prototype blue-bellied, gray-backed tracer-bird with the wide-angle eye and the parabola ear followed the dragon-riders north. A series of the larger fliers followed it at well-spaced intervals, to serve as relay points for the spy broadcasts...

The dark birdforms dotted the mountaintops like statues of prehistoric beasts, wings outspread. Had there been an eye to observe them, it might not even have noted their minute, tropism-like pursuit of the sun across the sky as they recharged their batteries for the night's flight.

The day had beaten its way well on toward evening before they stirred, almost simultaneously, as if shaken by a sudden breeze. They began to flex their wings.

Soon, one by one, they dropped from the heights, caught the air, rose, found their way, found their patterns, resumed their journey...

Technovelgy from Changeling, by Roger Zelazny.
Published by Ace in 1980
Additional resources -

The tracer bird and its support and escort devices fly as a flock:

The prototype blue-bellied, gray-backed tracer-bird now focussed its attention upon her as she circled the room, studying it carefully without paying real attention to the opened atlas, as she retreated out the door and into the corridor beyond, her hoofs clattering rapidly as she passed down the corridor.

Mouseglove heard the great doors opening below and made it to an appropriate vantage in time to see the metal birdforms launched like blown leaves into the dark sky, where they rose to swirl beneath stars, then assumed a formation which tightened itself as it wound and unwound, took its course and passed in a direction he deemed to be roughly southeast. This troubled him as he made his way to the surveillance center. He managed the approach once more and heard Mark within, cursing and giving orders. The one glimpse he got of the screens showed nothing of interest.

Here's a picture of the tracer-bird; if you buy a copy of this book, be sure you get the edition with the great illustrations by Esteban Maroto.

He saw the blue-bellied, gray-backed thing upon the sill overhead. It was turned as if watching them. A portion of its front end caught the sunlight and cast it down toward them... The tracer-bird followed their every step, hung upon their words...

Mark Marakson was able to control their movements using a wrist bracelet control panel, that also showed surveillance footage on a small screen.

Compare to the artificial bird from The Artificial Bird (1929) by Karel Capek, the bird-like robots from Flamingo (1930) by CE Heller, robot bird from Invader on My Back, by Philip E. High, published by Ace Books in 1968 and to the metal birds from Vulcan's Hammer (1960), by Philip K. Dick.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Changeling
  More Ideas and Technology by Roger Zelazny
  Tech news articles related to Changeling
  Tech news articles related to works by Roger Zelazny

Tracer-Bird-related news articles:
  - Robotic Bat Wing
  - Autonomous Soaring Project UAV Cloud Swift
  - Tiny Spyplanes May Recharge On Power Lines
  - COM-BAT Robotic 'Bat' On Order From UM
  - Swarming Micro Air Vehicle Networks (SMAVNET)
  - Robot Aircraft To Ride Thermal Air Currents
  - Zephyr Solar Plane Sails For Days
  - MIT Glider Lands On a Perch Like A Bird
  - UAVs Schooled In Thermals By Peregrine Falcons
  - Robotic Hummingbird Spy
  - Surveillance Drone Bird Crashes
  - Army's New Bird-Like Surveillance UAV
  - Ultralight Origami Crane UAV Flexes Its Wings
  - Eagles Vs. Drones
  - 'Eye In The Sky' Movie Borrows 35, 80 Year-Old SF
  - Solar Plane Circles The Globe
  - Bat Bot Robotic Flapping-Wing Drone

Articles related to Surveillance
Amazon One Is Frank Herbert's Palm Lock
Who Needs Dogs? Trained Bees Detect Explosives
Government In-Home Surveillance - Yes! Say Third Of Under-30 Adults
New Train Station Offers Minority Report-Style Signs

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