Scientists from the Royal Veterinary College may have just discovered the reasoning behind birds’ V-formations.
The researchers attached mini data-loggers to a group of bald ibises that were being re-taught a long-forgotten migration route as part of a project by the Waldarappteam in Austria to bring the bird back in its native European habitat (they were wiped out by hunting).
The birds were being taught the migration route by following a micro-light that they had been previously trained to follow. The mini-loggers, meanwhile, kept track of the position, speed, direction and each individual wing-flap of every bird.
They discovered that by flying in a V, the birds save energy by taking advantage of upwash, the air that is pushed upwards at the birds’ wingtips. By flying just behind and to the side of the bird in front, an individual can use their upwash to make flight less strenuous.
The team discovered that when flying in a V, the individual birds’ heart-rates are lower than when flying alone. They also discovered that the birds coordinated their wingflaps to,
…to match the good air off the bird in front…Each bird [kept] its wingtip in the upwash throughout the flap cycle,”
according to lead researcher Dr. Steven Portugal. He went on to say,
They’re able to sense what’s going on from the bird in front, where this good air is coming from and how to position themselves perfectly in it.”
Read the full story from the BBC here.