We often see flocks of birds flying across the sky. They are usually the migratory kinds which traverse over cities, countries, and oceans around the world in a definite pattern. One of the unique characteristics of this collective flying is its shape and orientation – the “V” formation. So why do birds fly in V formation? What benefits do they derive from flying in such way? What is the science behind this?
Scientists have found that the main reason for this flight formation is to reduce the effect of drag force. Drag force, or force created by movement or friction between two surfaces, is minimized when birds are flying together than when they are alone. In some studies conducted, it is reported that a flock of 25 birds in V formation can fly 71% farther than a bird could do on its own with the same amount of energy. This also reduces the drag force by up to 65%.
Moreover, birds also properly space themselves apart from each other. In this way, they optimize the reduction of drag force that every individual experiences. However, logic tells us that the bird flying in the lead and in the end would experience the greatest drag force since they are the ones to push through the current of air. There may seem to be no equal benefits for all the birds since the individual in the lead position would have to work the hardest. So how do birds prevent draining the energy of the lead bird?
The answer is simple: the birds switch positions. When the bird at the lead position gets exhausted, it will fall father back into one of the lines of V and will be replaced by another bird from farther back. The two birds flying at the extreme ends of the formation also get tired faster than those in the middle, so the positions keep rotating among birds. There is a timely cyclical fashion of flying so as to spread the flight fatigue among all the flock members. Hence, each bird is given a chance to become the leader and be responsible for the group, or just be in the middle to enjoy the comfort. Overall, the V formation can greatly boosts the efficiency of flying birds.
Lastly, the V formation provides a means of communication and visual monitoring for the birds. It aids them in getting better view of each other. This enables them to spot any missing bird, as well as preventing any one of them from straying away from the flock.
Considering all this, humans can learn from the teamwork and reliability that birds offer each other during their flight. So V formation is not just any random act of flying, but a wise and analytical strategy that the birds have first learned and done.
Sources:Read "Why Birds Fly in V Formation" at Factoidz.