In order to understand the motivation behind why birds fly in specific patterns, you have to consider two things: the nature of birds and the physics of flight. For this we turn to our good friend science.
Firstly, it’s key to understand the behavior of birds. As certain birds begin detecting changes in temperature and daylight, they make the long trek south for the winter to warmer temperatures. To get to cooler climates, birds sometimes have to travel thousands of miles over land, so they must utilize the most efficient way to go the distance.
This is where the V formation comes into play. The V formation is the most efficient and aerodynamic way to fly long distances because it helps conserve the energy of all the birds in the V. Each bird in the V, except of course the one in front, flies in what’s called an upwash that comes from the bird in front of them.
The upwash, which is created by the circulating air left by flapping wings, helps the trailing bird support its weight and reduces the amount of drag. Since the trailing birds are gaining a free lift from the upwash, they don’t have to flap their wings as hard and save energy for longer flights.
For those wondering about the bird in front, migratory birds seamlessly rotate positions every now and then to equally distribute the benefit among all birds. This organization among large migratory birds that fly in the V formation enables them to fly anywhere between 400 and 500 miles in a single day.
To be completely thorough about why birds fly in the V formation, it also allows birds to communicate and watch each other easily. Being in this formation ensures no birds are lost from the flock along the way.
A truly complex concept executed simply by flocks of geese.
Timothy Martinez Jr. is a freelance writer and contributes to a number of blogs, including the official blogs of Backyard Chirper and Camping Gear Outlet.