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Why do some birds fly in v-formation?

What’s the science behind why some birds fly in v-formation? This 2014 NPR animation explains how forming a v-shape and synchronizing their wing flaps with the bird just ahead of them can help the birds like the Northern bald ibis save energy.

bald ibis v-formation
The study results were revealed in Nature after Royal Veterinary College in London researchers outfitted a specially-raised bald ibis flock with small and light monitoring devices. From NPR:

For a long time, the main problem was that the technology to measure things like a bird’s position or vital signs was just too heavy to be put on the back of a flying animal. But the computer age has changed all that…

By comparing the birds’ flight data to computer simulations, [researcher Steven] Portugal found that the ibises are apparently drafting — catching an uprush of air from the wingtip of the bird ahead. “Furthermore, when they’re in that position, they time wing beats perfectly,” he says. “So they don’t just sit there passively hoping to get some of the good air from the bird in front.”

They actually flap along the perfect sweet spot. Portugal thinks there’s a very good reason why the ibises do this. Previous studies have shown that flying is hard work.

Learn more with these videos: The physics of why birds fly in V-formation and why do geese fly in V formation?

Plus: Christian Moullec flies his microlight with the birds.

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