Home Science The science behind why migrating birds fly in a V formation

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Ever wondered why birds  fly in a V-formation?, something that’s frequently seen when giant flocks migrate across the skies. The obvious answer is that it saves energy. A new study conducted by Nature suggests birds keep an eye on the leader, as well as their place in a formation, matching their flaps to ride waves of thin, spiraling air sent off by the lead bird and those who follow. The practice saves the birds behind the leader considerable effort as they flap on the updrafts, something that comes in handy over migrations that can stretch thousands of miles.


Finding out the specific energy savings and conditions for flying in formation was no easy task. Researchers for Nature spent nearly a month tracking a group of Northern bald ibises from Austria to Italy, with 14 of those birds sporting GPS loggers and accelerometers to track wing flap activity.

“The result is that when in formation, each bird was able to synchronize the flapping of its wings so that it could exploit the updraught created by the swirling vortex of air from the flapping wingtip of the bird in front. When the flock got it right, each following bird delayed its wingbeat by just enough to spread a wave of synchrony through each arm of the V.”

The research could lead to a deeper understanding of whether there are differences in patterning among bird species, as well as how to carry over the techniques to human creations like airplanes and drones.


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