The next time you look up at the sky and at a bird, it might be looking right back at you -- because China is using an advanced fleet of drones for surveillance that look just like birds.

The Chinese government is operating a program, code-named “Dove”, which has deployed birdlike drones to spy over at least five provinces in the country, according to a South China Morning Post report on Sunday.

The drones can flap their wings like a bird to fly climb, dive and turn in the air, replicating about 90% of the movements of a real dove, according to a member of the program.

Engineers at Northwestern Polytechnical University in China's Xi'an made these birdlike drones. (Picture: Northwestern Polytechnical University)

Each dove drone has a wingspan of about 20 inches, weighs around 200 grams and is capable of flying at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour for a maximum of 30 minutes. They're said to be so quiet that they've flown among real birds without attracting attention.

Each dove -- uh, drone -- is packed with all the things you'd expect from a surveillance device, like an HD camera, GPS, and satellite communication.

These little devices pack in a lot of surveillance power. (Picture: SCMP)

The report also said that China’s flock of dove drones have been extensively used to spy in at least five provinces in recent years.

A part of the country where these drones have been used is in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in China’s far west. The vast area, which borders Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan,Pakistan and India, is home to the famous Taklamakan Desert and China’s biggest Muslim community. The region, which is known as the “surveillance state”, has been a hotbed for separatism, which made the area a subject to heavy surveillance by Beijing.

A researcher said almost 2,000 test flights were conducted before the dive drones were deployed. These drones seemed lifelike enough to be able to fly alongside real birds undetected. These machines have also flown over animals with acute senses without triggering any suspicion.

The dove drone program, spearheaded by a former scientist who helped invent China’s J-20 stealth jet, is also intended for military use. The development team said drones with biologically inspired engineering could fool radar better than a typical drone. The team described the current drone program as “in its early stages of development”.