AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Birds and Migration: More Than Just the “V-Formation”


For as long as we can remember, we have known that many species of birds migrate south during the winter, in a “V-formation.” Recent studies by ecophysiologist Steven Portugal have suggested that the classic formation helps birds to conserve the most energy possible. His investigation involved researching the Northern Bald Ibis, a bird that was extinct in Europe for around 400 years. Johannes Fritz has been working tirelessly to bring the Northern Bald Ibis out of extinction, by pioneering an human-led migration throughout Europe, for the past 12 years. (To discover more about these birds, and their emergence from extinction in Europe, check out this site.)

Through his studies, Steven Portugal has identified that his hypothesis was correct; the “V-Formation” does, in-fact, help a flock of birds conserve the most energy as well as “the birds’ formation fitted the theoretical predictions of aerodynamics.” The birds synchronize their flapping when they experience turbulence. He also found that the birds break their arrangement to those of “less-optimal positions.” This includes, birds going one-behind-the-other, and changing their wing-flapping patterns. This is all believed to prevent downwash, which is “the downward deflection of of an airflow,” as defined by the dictionary.

Thanks to the work done by Steven Portugal, Johannes Fritz and their respective teams, we have come much closer to discovering “the why” in bird-behavioral patterns, namely their flock formation during migration.

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  1. rmelman

    That is so cool! Animals are so intelligent. It is really interesting that birds not only fly in formation, but synchronize the flapping of their wings as well! Here’s a link about the migration of birds

  2. karbonkim

    What an interesting discovery! I have seen birds fly in this “v-formation” numerous times, but I never knew why. This seems like a great example of form and function working together. The birds fly in that formation, in order to save energy. I found this video about Mr. Portugal’s work, which provides a helpful visual about his study: I also found some more information about birds and their aerodynamic features from this website:

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