The most visible sign of the fall migration has always come with a kind of riddle: Why do birds fly in those big V-shaped formations on their journey south?
When researchers came up with a way to ride along for a portion of the trip, they learned there’s a lot more going on up there than they expected. The maneuvers turned out to be impressive displays of teamwork, aerodynamics and selflessness of the part of birds. Experts say we could learn a thing or two from how they travel.
An earlier Flight Lessons post looked at secrets emerging on flight flocking, in which thousands of birds move together like a cloud. Several readers asked what’s going on with another form of joint flight: the V-formations that larger birds in particular, such as Canadian geese, all varieties of ducks, Ibises, storks and Pelicans, form as they fly.
The V shapes are a symbol of a migration that otherwise takes place mostly at night or out of our view. There’s something magical about them, says Bret Tobalske, director of one of the nation’s leading flight labs and associate professor at the University of Montana.
“People from time immemorial have been fascinated by the formations,” he said. “We have looked up for a long time and been just fascinated by how they do this.”