Why do Birds Fly in a ‘V’ Formation?

What is the Flight of a Bird?

The flight of a bird is referred to as the state of movement that birds use while taking off and flying. Amongst all of the most complex forms of locomotion, the flight of a bird is one. To feed, breed, avoid predators and during migration, flight assists the birds.there had been. Various theories have been written about how the flight of birds has evolved.


The Basic Mechanism of the Flight of a Bird

The mechanism of bird flight is similar to that of aircraft. Aerodynamic forces based on lift and drag are used in both of the cases. The action of airflow on the wing (airfoil) produces the lift force. The reason behind the occurrence of the lift force is that the air has a higher pressure below the wings and lower pressure just above. The force that acts opposite to the direction of motion is called aerodynamic drag. The drag force can be further subcategorized in three following forms:-

  • Frictional Drag: It is induced due to the friction between the air and body surfaces.

  • Form Drag: It is also called pressure drag and is due to the frontal area of the bird.

  • Lift - Induced Drag: it is due to the wingtip vortices.


Bird Flight in ‘V’ Pattern

It has been noticed that while migrating or making trips birds tend to fly in a ‘V’ formation. Usually, there is one bird that leads the way at the front, and the rest of the birds in the flock gather at the back in right or left forming a ‘V’ shape in the sky. Birds often tend to fly in a ‘V ‘ formation, inverted ‘V’ formation, ‘J’ formation, or inverted ‘J’ formation and these linear formations are called skein formation.


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At times of war, ‘V’ formation is also used by the military personnel. From Spartans in the middle ages to modern-day fighter jets and sea warfare, it has been used in wars. One can have a clear view ahead of them by lining up in a ‘V’ formation, hence, birds, people and planes each have similar reasons to follow this pattern. But the reason that a flock of birds has for flying in this pattern is way more impressive.


 According to people who have research on the topic of V formation of birds while flying, the birds usually tend to fly around a meter behind and a meter off to the side upfront. Now when the bird leading the formation flaps its wings an area of downwash is created which is when a vortex of air directly behind is pushed downwards.


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A pressure difference is created due to downwash which means to the air below the wing being in a state of higher pressure than the air above. As we all know that the air moves from a region of higher pressure to a region of lower pressure which is in the upward direction in this case.


Now a lot less amount of energy to fly is spent by the bird situated in another bird’s upwash As the upwash of the bird in front of it is already pushing them upwards. The V formation of birds helps in situating each member in the best possible position to its neighbor’s upwash. As we move to the end of the ‘V’ formation the pressure difference increases, so a very less amount of energy is spent by the birds at the end of the formation than by the birds upfront.


The same amount of formation is used by the aircraft to save fuel.


Did you know? 

  • There can be about 30 species of geese worldwide.

  • Geese at an average have a maximum lifespan of 20 years depending on their species.

  • A goose can fly as fast as 40 mph.

  • Geese that migrate are capable of flying 5000 km that would be 3000 Miles each season.

  • To enable communication and to encourage the flock while flying in a ‘ V’ formation, geese honk. 

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1:- How is it Decided Which Bird will Lead the V?

A1:- For a study, the researchers observed a flock of 14 birds. As a result, it turned out that no single bird took the front spot for a long period of time. It was found that each bird spent just a few seconds, even less than a minute at the front position of the V formation. In just a few seconds the bird at the front changed its position with the other bird next to it in the formation. Hence, it was concluded that In a flight of 1 hour each bird would pair-switch its position with the nearest bird an average of about 57 times. All birds end up doing roughly the same amount of work on the flight.

Q2:- What can we Learn from Birds About Leadership?

A:- Following are some things that birds teach us:-

  • A Good Leader Makes a Good Follower 

Birds flying in a flock can migrate to longer distances and save much more amount of energy than birds flying alone.

  • Interdependence

It is possibly seen that the flock is being guided by a single bird which is not true. When the lead bird feels exhausted it moves back in the formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the other birds in front.

  • Unity

A flock of birds can fly up to a thousand miles in a perfect V  formation. It has been estimated that a flock of birds flying in a ‘V’ formation is 70% more efficient than a bird flying alone. hence, a  flock of birds teaches us to stay united. 

  • Loyalty

At times when a member of the flock becomes sick or wounded, to protect it two or more birds drop out of the formation and follow it. They then stay with the wounded or sick bird until it is able to fly again. Thereafter they fly off to catch up with the flock.