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Why do birds fly in a 'V' formation ?

Posted on Tuesday, 21 January, 2014 | Comment icon 11 comments

The 'V' formation is a familiar sight. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Dnrivera

Scientists have been able to determine the advantages of the distinctive formation for the first time.

Researchers from the Royal Veterinary College investigated the phenomenon by closely observing a flock of birds that had been trained how to migrate by following a human in a microlight aircraft.

Special data loggers were attached to the birds to record information such as speed, position and heading. The results suggested that the classic 'V' formation is optimal for enabling each bird to take advantage of the lift gained from the bird in front of it.

"They're seemingly very aware of where the other birds are in the flock and they put themselves in the best possible position," said Lead researcher Dr Steven Portugal.

The research follows on from a previous study in which pelicans flying in formation were found to have lower heart rates then they did when flying by themselves.

Source: BBC News | Comments (11)

Tags: Bird

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #2 Posted by ChrLzs on 20 January, 2014, 8:57
Mythbusters - who are surely beyond criticism as they are on TV - also covered it in 2011:
Comment icon #3 Posted by zebra99 on 20 January, 2014, 10:02
I wonder how much this cost in taxpayers money/subsidy to 'discover' what is already known?
Comment icon #4 Posted by lightly on 20 January, 2014, 12:58
I guess I missed the results of the first study.. so thanks for posting this Still. I'd like to see someone figure out how flocks of birds and schools of fish swoop about in perfect unison! Ever see that (or film)? They seem to move at exactly the same time in exactly the same pattern. I suspect their sensing of air OR water currents might play a role ?? .... Or better yet, their sensing of magnetic fields. ¿¿
Comment icon #5 Posted by ChrLzs on 20 January, 2014, 22:31
There is some work already done, eg this: but that is a scientific article that would require payment to get - if you are genuinely interested, pop along to your local library and tell them you'd like to see it - they will normally have subions to such services, or may even be able to get you a copy of the document in which it is published - in this case ACM SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics, Volume 21 Issue 4, July 1987. There's probably more recent research but that's the first one I saw. Try Google Scholar for this sort of enquiry.
Comment icon #6 Posted by acute on 20 January, 2014, 22:59
I am more fascinated by the birds following their human foster parent who is in a microlight!
Comment icon #7 Posted by Calibeliever on 21 January, 2014, 16:41
Was listening to an interview with him on NPR. Accroding to Portugal it has long been the accepted wisdom that birds fly this way for reasons of reducing drag but this was the first opportunity they've had to actually confirm it with data.
Comment icon #8 Posted by ancient astronaut on 21 January, 2014, 16:49
Because it's too hard to fly in an "S" formation??
Comment icon #9 Posted by Sundew on 21 January, 2014, 18:49
I thought they already knew this because the lead bird drops back to be replaced by those in the back from time to time; without the lift the other birds provide it is the first to tire.
Comment icon #10 Posted by Duchess Gummybuns on 21 January, 2014, 21:45
Well, why NOT fly in a "V"? Actually, why not fly in a "Q" formation? I'd pay to see that.
Comment icon #11 Posted by Paranomaly on 22 January, 2014, 12:27
This was taught to me in grade school, 25 years ago. Not news.

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