Why Do Birds Fly in V-Formation?

Photo: NatGeo

Photo: NatGeo

Science is constantly churning out new research regarding animals of all species, not just domesticated pets. Researchers in the UK set out to answer the age-old questions of how and why birds fly in a V-formation.

The most common answer is that birds fly in this way to conserve energy, but it's much more complex than that.

Researcher Stephen Portugal used tiny data-loggers light enough to be carried by flying birds to record their position, speed, and heading. He teamed up with an organization that's trying to save the endangered northern bald ibis by teaching them to fly along their old migration routes by leading them by aircraft.

The team of humans and birds stops several times along the way, which gave Portugal the necessary opportunity to record the birds and retrieve the data a few hours later.

The research showed that the birds fly around a meter behind the bird in front, and another meter off to the side. There was no consistent leader, and the birds frequently changed positions. It was also critical that the birds flapped their wings at the right time. The birds are able to adjust their flapping to keep their wings within a moving zone of free lift create by the trail left by the bird in front of them.

Portugal compared the phenomenon to walking through the snow behind someone. If you follow the footprints in front if you, the snow is already pushed down, making your walk easier.

The birds were able to hit the "good air" the majority of the time, which Portugal described as "quite a feat."

The research shows that the birds are incredibly adept at managing the air flow around them and responding accordingly. Portugal also noted that these flight patterns were a behavior that they learned from each other, almost as if it were self-taught.

Read the full article. 


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