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Why Do Birds Fly in A V Format?

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Why Do Birds Fly in V Shape?

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We all have noticed that birds fly in a particular pattern but have you ever wondered why birds fly in V shape? According to the majority of people, this is just a group of birds following the leader, but there is more to it. There are quite a number of reasons because of which birds travel through the sky in a perfect ‘V’ pattern. Flying is a mode of locomotion used by birds that helps them to migrate, breed, feed and avoid predators. Flying is considered one of the most complex forms of locomotions in the animal kingdom. This formation of ‘V’ shape during flight is nothing but a unique bird behaviour that has been a matter of research in ornithology for years. 


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What is the Mechanics Behind the Flight of Birds?

To get the answer to ‘why do birds fly in a V format’, we must know the science behind it. Aerodynamic forces are key forces behind the mechanics of bird flight. It is based on the concept of lift and drag. The lift can be defined as a force that is produced in the wings of the bird by the action of airflow. Drag is the force that is opposite to the direction of motion of the bird. These two forces together help in the flight of a bird. The mechanism of bird flight is similar to the mechanism of an aircraft.


What is a V Formation During Bird Flight?

The behaviour of linear flight formation in birds is termed echelon. The V formation of birds during their migratory flight is one such common flock echelons. There are other famous echelons like the formation of J shape, etc.


Why Do Birds Fly in V Pattern?

As mentioned earlier, there are quite a number of reasons why birds fly in a V-shape. The reasons are as follows:

  • It makes long-distance flights easier: V formation helps birds to sync their wing beats. The mechanism further helps in energy conservation. The birds present behind are observed to have lower heartbeat rates than the once in the front. When birds in the front flap their wings, a certain volume of wind is pushed downward which is known as the downwash. This creates a differential air pressure because of which the wings easily move in an upward direction (from the high-pressure region to the low-pressure region). This is known as the upwash. This upwash helps the bird behind to fly with much less expenditure of energy. This makes the flight easier and there is a lower expenditure of energy.

  • It keeps the birds less stressed: According to a study conducted by Henri Weimerskirch in 2001 where he had fitted heart rate monitors on pelicans, showed that the birds flying at the back of the V have lower heart rates and flapped less often in comparison to the once leading. Hence the birds which are stronger tend to lead the flock. The V formation keeps them healthier as they have to spend less energy than they would spend if they would be flying individually.

  • It allows a clear view for birds: The V formation enables the birds to get a clear view of obstacles presented ahead. This is helpful for them to spot predators as well.

The ‘V’ formation is an exclusive bird behaviour that is shown during the flight. It is adopted by the humans in the army; the military personnel, at the time of war, march ahead towards the battlefield forming a V-pattern. It has been used in war since the middle ages. Even today fighter jets and sea warfare vessels use this movement pattern. This V-shape formation gives a clear view ahead, and hence, is beneficial for military purposes. Along with these reasons, the fact that a lot of energy is conserved by birds due to formation of this echelon is the very reason why they migrate in a V shape.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. How Do the Birds Decide the Leader of the V in their Flock?

Ans: All the birds have an equal share of work in the formation of V during flight. This keeps the birds stress-free apart from giving other advantages. As the leader gets tired, it goes back and another bird from the flock takes its place. This process continues throughout the migratory flight. This is an excellent example of cooperation in action. Each bird gets a chance to lead the flock and then slide back to relax their wings which lessen their energy expenditure. In general, the healthier birds take the lead in V formation first and then other birds come to the forefront one after another. 

2. What Will Happen if Birds Fall out of their V Formation During their Migratory Flights? Which Birds Fly in this V Formation?

Ans: When birds fall out of their V formation during their migratory flight, they experience drag or resistance which draws them to the V formation once again. The V formation is less energetically costly for the birds because of which even after falling out of the V, they tend to return to the V formation.

Birds flying in this V formation are pelicans, storks, geese, ducks, swans, cranes, cormorants, etc.

3. Why Do Geese Honk During their Flight?

Ans: Geese honk during their flight to keep the complete flock together or to signify any kind of danger. They keep honking because of the fact that they are having sufficient energy to honk which have been otherwise saved by flying in a V formation. V formation is an echelon or flight formation which saves a lot of energy for birds which can be used for other activities like honking. Geese communicate through honking during their long migratory flights. Geese are very helpful to their fellow flock members. If any injured goose falls out of the formation, other geese ensure that they get back the injured goose in the flock and help it fly in the particular echelon.